The 1892-1893 Season

By Meredith Klaus

This season saw three new plays at the Adelphi--The Lights of Home, The Lost Paradise, and The Black Domino, all by the redoubtable Sims and Buchanan. Of these, the first play echoed the nautical strains of Black Ey'd Susan and Harbour Lights, although, as the Times remarked, sailors no longer danced the hornpipe or shivered their timbers. Modern innovations on the marine conventions notwithstanding, the play was the Adelphi's usual melodramatic success.

As noted by the Times (1 August 1892), the plot begins with a Romeo and Juliet motif. The feuding families are the Garfields and Carringtons, and the star-crossed lovers are Phillip Carrington and Sybil Garfield. The lady comes complete with a hotheaded brother Edgar and a rival for her hand in Arthur Tredgold. As the loving couple elope, not to the cell of Friar Lawrence, but on Phillip's ship bound for Baltimore, the hero and his rival struggle briefly but inconclusively. Phillip and Sybil board ship bound for America and romance, but the unsuccessful suitor meets his nemesis. Arthur, it turns out, has villainously seduced a village maiden, Tress Purvis, and her vengeful father appears to seal Arthur's doom. In Arthur's second struggle of the day, he inadvertently topples over a nearby cliff, leaving in everyone's mind the ugly suspicion that he was done in by his rival Phillip. Phillip, as heroes will, feels compelled to return home to clear his name, a return climaxed by a shipwreck where Phillip's ship breaks up on a rocky shoal. All are rescued but Phillip, who is presumed dead. But it is Tress, the betrayed maiden, who attempts to rescue him. She fails in her attempt, but Phillip manages to swim to safety himself, dragging her unconscious body. His dramatic reappearance resolves all difficulties.

The shipwreck scene provided a marvelous opportunity for sensational scenic effects--an opportunity brilliantly realized by the stage technicians of the Adelphi. In the words of the Times,

The steamer lies athwart the stage, and, being supposed to strike upon a rock during a terrible storm, sinks into the raging billows under the eyes of an awe-struck and breathless house, while the hero, unaccountably left behind by the rescuing party of coastguardsmen, swims for his life, holding in his arms meanwhile the betrayed village maiden who has vainly come to his assistance in her father's boat. If this is not the dernier mot of the stage carpenter, then marvels are, indeed, in store for us (1 August 1892).

At the beginning of the season, Leonard Boyne was replaced as romantic lead by Kyrle Bellew. The Times commended him--"as a mere physical achievement his performance is remarkable"--while the Theatre commented: "Mr. Bellew lavishes upon the Adelphines refinements and natural touches to which they have been unaccustomed since Mr. Alexander left the house."

The Theatre was even more enthusiastic about the minor roles, finding the parts of Tress Purvis and her father Dave to be truly outstanding:

Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Mr. W. A. Elliot create a fine effect in these parts. Mrs. Campbell's nervous frame vibrates with emotion. Her artistic instinct serves her truly. In her picture of Tress she is never at fault. Of singular pathos, of unutterable mournfulness, exquisite in womanly feeling is her playing in the great scene; and for Mr. Elliot's strong, sturdy, earnest work almost equal praise is due. Only a great actor could do more with Dave than he does, and Dave, it may be said, is a part not unworthy of a Willard or a Tree (1 September 1892).

In The Lost Paradise, the Adelphi authors turned from the maritime to the political and to a product which is heavily socialist and proletarian. The subject of the play is a workers' strike for higher wages which pits the oppressed but noble workers against the devious capitalists. The workers are led by a valiant young foreman, Reuben, played by Charles Warner, whose crusade against his employer is additionally motivated by the fact that Andrew Knowlton, the senior partner, played "with one or two excellent character touches" by W. A. Elliot, has stolen from Reuben the invention which made him rich, and upon which the prosperity of his gun factory depends. The junior partner and fellow conniving capitalist was played with the requisite villainy by William Abingdon. T. B. Thalberg and Mary Keegan played the parts of a "vapid pair of lovers," while the usual comic routines were ably performed by Clara Jecks and Welton Dale. The Times found the piece "curious and interesting." The most remarkable comment by the Times critic concerned the role of Margaret Knowlton, Andrew's daughter and heiress, a rather haughty and aristocratic young lady, who at first spurns but later requites the loyal affection of the hero Reuben. The Times found in the character "a strong-mindedness which is somewhat disquieting in a heroine," and was relieved the part was played by Dorothy Dorr, "whose winning personality invests it with a tender interest."

The Black Domino was received by the reviewers with considerably less enthusiasm than it apparently had been by the public. Turning from the portrayal of the noble but misrepresented hero, who struggles under a false accusation but remains true to his amorous or matrimonial vows, Sims and Buchanan "revert to the dramatic methods of the Buckstone period" with a hero who not only juggles the love of two women but stoops to forgery to finance his finagling.

The first act of The Black Domino is a wedding scene where Lord Dashwood is married to the wealthy and beautiful Mildred Vavasour:

Lord Dashwood has studied what George Meredith calls 'The Wild Oats Theory' to advantage. He has played the prodigal son, and has eaten the husks, and now intends settling down with loving Mildred Vavasour to one long course of fatted calf. One oat, however, springs full-blown from the earth, clad in sumptuous raiment, on his wedding morning (Theatre, May 1, 1893).

While the marriage ceremony progresses, watched by a chorus of gentlemen in hunting dress and a crowd of curious rustics, complications crowd the background. Dashwood has been keeping company with a village girl named Clarice Berton, daughter to the honest (though French) village organist. She would betray Dashwood to the wedding guests, but is restrained temporarily by her father. However, further snares await the bridegroom. Clarice departs for London to become Belle Hamilton, a popular courtesan in the style of Camille. Dashwood, now ensnared by Belle, neglects his loving wife and falls deeply in debt. The villainy of Belle/Clarice is compounded by Captain Greville, Dashwood's purported friend and Mildred's erstwhile suitor. Determined to revenge his disappointment in love, Greville tempts Dashwood to forge his father's name to a document (later redeemed by a wealthy friend). While Belle is seducing Dashwood, Greville has designs on Mildred. Affairs are climaxed at a fancy dress ball (hence the black domino which will disguise both Belle and Mildred). Dashwood informs Mildred of her husband's perfidy and she arrives at the ball in disguise only to discover the truth. Fainting as a result, Mildred is carried unconscious by Greville to his bedchamber. Meanwhile Belle discovers what is going on, rushes to Greville's chamber, and changes places with the revived Mildred, concealing herself with Mildred's Black Domino. Both Greville and Dashwood are amazed at the unmasking. Dashwood determines to commit suicide, but is forestalled by Belle, who clears Dashwood's name and swallows poison to redeem herself. The Times compared this piece with an earlier Adelphi success.

Old Adelphi playgoers remember with something like affection Buckstone's Green Bushes, which was one of the great successes of Mme. Celeste. Connor O'Kennedy was by no means the ideal hero of these later times [see The Lights of Home and The Lost Paradise]. But his sins and the suffering they entailed served only to endear him to the public, whose eyes were wet with tears for the sorrows of his devoted and betrayed wife and her unwitting rival Miami. Exiled from home, the Irish patriot contracted new bonds in the far off valley of the Mississippi, and his expiation came when the two women he had wronged met face to face (3 April 1893).

The Times felt that the acting ability of Charles H. Glenney saved the role of Dashwood from being as despicable as he might have been, while his almost-virtue was complemented by the devious villainy of Grenville and lost nothing "in the practiced hands of W. L. Abingdon." A comic money-lender was played by Arthur Williams. Clara Jecks and Welton Dale supplied additional comedy, though the Theatre felt Clara Jecks's talents "pitiably wasted upon a wretched part" (1 May 1893). The female rivals for Dashwood's questionable favors were Evelyn Millard and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the latter of whom, according to the Times, "connives to establish some points of resemblance between Belle Hamilton and the consumptive heroine of La Dame aux Camelies."

Scenic wonders, the stock in trade of the Adelphi, were found in the rustic wedding chapel in the first act, the terrace of the Star and Garter at Richmond, and the fancy dress ball at Covent Garden. Neither the Times nor the Theatre lavished their usual praise on the scenic effects, possibly because the wedding chapel looked like any rustic chapel, while the Covent Garden and Richmond scenes would be familiar to the Adelphi audiences as well as to their readers.

This successful season ended on 27 May 1893.

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

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