The 1889-1890 Season

By Peggy Russo

The 1889 season opened on 14 September, following a week for preparation of a new play by George B. Sims and Henry Pettit during which the theatre was dark. This season saw the Adelphi bereft of one of its main attractions. William Terriss, accompanied by Jessie Millward, had embarked on a tour of the United States, and although he would return to London within a year, he was not to return to the Adelphi for five years. With Terriss gone, playwrights Sims and Pettit were not obligated to create a hero tailor-made to Terriss's measurements. Thus, in London Day by Day, the Adelphi audience were treated to changes in scene and character focus: the scene was London; the heroine regained the spotlight. After claiming that the Adelphi had for "twenty years maintained pretty close relations with the realism of the London streets," the Times noted "the public [had] come back to this class of fare with a relish all the keener from their recent studies of soldiering and sailoring, and of mining, emigrant, and Irish life" (16 September 1889, p. 6c).

The title was taken from the name of a popular newspaper column, and the authors included familiar London scenes from all walks of life, thus insuring audience interest among all classes. Realistic scene paintings by Bruce Smith and Williams Perkins were highly praised, including those of a money-lender's office, Hampton Court, Leicester Square, and St. Katherine's Wharf (Theatre, 1 October 1889, p. 208). Most delightful, according to the Times, were Sims's "broad humanitarian sympathies and Dickens-like humour" which showed the "bright side of slum life."

The two new leading ladies were Mary Rorke (the main heroine) and Alma Murray. George Alexander was the new leading man, recruited from the Lyceum. All three were praised by the critics. The Athenaeum was particularly taken by changes both in characterization and acting: "The hero no longer struts and swaggers, the heroine moderates the transports of her grief, the villain is bland and affable, and the traditions generally of the Adelphi are violated" (21 September 1889, p. 394).

Besides improving the artistry of characterization, the Adelphi was lauded by the Times for taking advantage of electricity to initiate a new technique for changing scenes "while the stage is plunged in absolute darkness."

London Day by Day enjoyed a healthy run from 14 September 1889 through 17 April 1890. On the second night (15 September), a farce was added to the bill--The Secret (possibly by W. T. Moncrieff). On 19 October, The Secret was replaced by T. Malcolm Watson's Polly's Venture, which was itself replaced on 25 January by P. P. O'Callaghan's The Married Bachelor. Married Bachelor remained on the bill through the end of the Day by Day run and was retained as the opening farce for Green Bushes, the final production of the season.

During the run of London Day by Day, there were two special performances. On 13 March, the Gattis donated the theatre to Samuel Hayes and Company for their Annual Matinee. The main piece was J. S. Knowles's The Hunchback, starring Mrs. Pat Campbell as Helen in what the program calls "her first appearance." Also performed were Delicate Ground by Charles Dance and some "miscellaneous entertainment," including "The Charge of the Light Brigade," recited by Amy Roselle; "The Song that reached my Heart," sung by Fannie Leslie; and Buchanan Reed's "Sheridan's Ride," recited by Edmund Leathes. Piano accompaniment was provided by Signor Odoardo Berri.

On 25 March 1890, there was a special performance of Jess, a new drama by Eweretta Lawrence and J. J. Bisgood adapted from H. Rider Haggard's novel. The Adelphi's J. D. Beveridge directed and starred as Silas Croft, an English farmer living in South Africa. Eweretta Lawrence played Jess. Both the Times and Athenaeum gave it lukewarm reviews. Although the background was of topical interest--the Boer troubles in the Transvaal--the plot followed the usual melodramatic formula. The Times noted that "after making a solitary bid for applause in the stirring scene where Frank Muller tries to drown John Niel and Jess in the Vaal river, the adapters allowed the story to die of inanition" (26 March 1890, p. 8d).

The Athenaeum complained of interminable speeches that Eweretta Lawrence as adaptor had provided for Eweretta Lawrence as actress, but praise was given for a scene in which Lawrence entered carrying a "knife red with [the villain's] heart's blood" (29 March 1890, p. 414). The Times praised the "more than ... matinee measure of justice" given the production, "except for the fact that the banks of the Vaal river bore a suspicious resemblance to the rockbound Irish lake in which the Colleen Bawn is accustomed to seek a watery grave" (26 March 1890).

After the final performance of London Day by Day on 17 April, the theatre was dark for one day, and re-opened on 19 April with a revival of the Adelphi trademark The Green Bushes by J. B. Buckstone, first produced at the Adelphi 45 years earlier and most recently revived by the Gattis during their first year as proprietors (1880). The Times testified to the warm response of the audience and based on that response, theorized that public taste in melodrama was swinging back toward the romantic (21 April 1890, p. 6c). While approving of the "drama of yesterday," The Athenaeum noted that the "acting of yesterday" also had "more breadth and colour than that of today." "For the first time," said the Athenaeum:

the melodrama has been given by actors who, not having seen its original cast, retain only such traditions concerning the manner in which it is to be rendered as ordinarily linger in the case of a successful play (26 April 1890, p. 541).

Although Clara Jecks was praised for her rendition of Tigertail, Mary Rorke's Miami could not compare with Mme. Celeste's:

Mme. Celeste ... was an admirable pantomimist, who by simple gesture could fill the stage. Her figure as she stood on the bridge in front of the house and contemplated her guilty husband in the arms of another woman will not be banished from the memory (Athenaeum).

It was suggested that had the Gattis cast Olga Nethersole as Miami, the choice would have been more "felicitous." Even so, Green Bushes ran until the end of the season.

During the run, there was a special matinee on 21 May. The Bride of Love was a new poetic drama based on the myth of Eros and Psyche, written by Robert Buchanan with music by A. C. Mackenzie and Walter Slaughter. Enthusiastically received by the audience, the play received mixed reviews from critics. The Times noted "many pleasing features" but also noted that the actors mispronounced Greek words (22 May 1890, p. 8b). The Athenaeum complained at length about the atmosphere:

A Venus who has grown old and is expressly declared to be a bit of a shrew, and a Cupid who goes to bed early at night, having apparently to be up early in order to go to a board school, need the accompaniments of Offenbach rather than of Mr. Slaughter or Dr. Mackenzie (24 May 1890, p. 683).

Buchanan was advised to "dip again into Keats" before meddling with such a theme again, with the added suggestion that he should "henceforward leave it alone" (Athenaeum). Both the Times and the Athenaeum, however, had nothing but praise for Letty Lind who danced the cymbal dance of Euphrosynea--obviously a highlight of the production.

Curiously, for the last two performances of Green Bushes, the Gattis discarded Married Bachelor as the opening farce. Thomas J. Williams's The Little Sentinel took its place with Clara Jecks playing the leading role. The final performance of Green Bushes on 12 July 1890 ended the season and the first decade of the Gattis' proprietorship. It seems both ironic and appropriate that the old Adelphi melodrama Green Bushes, produced both in 1880 and 1890, served as a frame for the decade. Despite the many innovations initiated by the Gatti brothers, the Adelphi remained what it had been--the home of melodrama.

© Copyright 1992 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

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