The 1895-1896 Season

By Thirza Cady

The 1895 season began on 31 August with The Swordsman's Daughter --an adaptation by Brandon Thomas and Clement Scott of a French play Maitre d'Armes. It received a favorable review, especially for "the brilliant scene in the fencing club" (Times, 2 September 1895, p. 4). The popularity of this scene ensured the success of the drama which played from the summer right up to the holiday season.

The plot revolves around a distinguished Parisian fencing master and his daughter. She has been compromised before the start of the story, and has a child. During the course of the play, her father discovers her secret, and through various plot maneuvers comes face to face with the villain of the piece, Count Henri de Rochefiere, in a duel to the death.

There are a number of issues germane to the plot. One of these is that the daughter becomes the object of the affections of a coastal pilot. However, she refuses his offer of marriage due to her previous dishonor.

Another issue is the continued dishonorable conduct of the count who kills a disarmed man during the course of a duel. The slain man was a close friend of the pilot, the daughter's new suitor. The count is brought to trial for his alleged crime, and it is in this context that the dueling master has his chance to avenge his daughter's dishonor.

The scene of the duel in the court is one of those extolled by the Times. Another is the launching of a pilot boat in a rampaging storm--ambitious staging that was admired by the reviewer.

The cast of the play was made up of the resident players of the time, led by William Terriss and Jessie Millward in the title roles. Harry Nicholls had the task of sustaining "almost the whole comic element," and W. L. Abingdon took the role of the villain. Terriss took his usual heroic role, assisted by Charles J. Fulton, the pilot, and Vincent Sternroyd as the French officer.

The Swordsman's Daughter ended its run on 30 November. The theatre was dark until 21 December, when George Edwardes' and Seymour Hicks' One of the Best was played. It was one of a number of dramatizations of the Dreyfus case. Terriss once more played the hero, but as the Times stated, in so spectacular a production there was less room than usual for acting (23 December 1895, p. 11). There was further comment about the lack of critics in attendance. However, at least one was present and decidedly unimpressed. After seeing One of the Best, George Bernard Shaw pronounced it "one of the worst."

Again, the production itself gained plaudits. The stage was filled with marching, kilted regiments who provided a magnificent military show designed to stir the patriotic British heart.

Jessie Millward "was hardly at her best as the female villain of the piece, but that was the fault of the character rather than of the actress" (Theatre, 1 February 1896, p. 100.) She was absent from the cast from the end of January, 1896 until almost the end of February.

One of the Best played through the first part of June, with the theatre darkened on Good Friday. Near the end of April, Edward Sass was replaced by J. Cole in the role of Lt. General Coventry, and J. D. Beveridge replaced Athol Forde as Jason Jupp. Both replacements lasted until the end of the season (June 6, 1896).

George Rowell claims that a supernumary in One of the Best was Richard Archer Prince who was tricked by Abingdon into believing he was to understudy Terriss. A mock rehearsal was called and Prince became the object of much ridicule. He was not rehired after the run of the play on the grounds that few supernumaries were needed. In fact, a large number were required. In his unbalanced state, he came to blame Terriss for these indignities (William Terriss and Richard Prince, pp. 65-66).

This was the first season that the Adelphi used its telephone to sell tickets. Although the theatre had subscribed to the Exchange System (number 2645) of the United Telephone Company as early as 1885, it had apparently restricted use of the phone to business calls. At twenty pounds a year, most families could not afford to be private subscribers. In order to encourage domestic use of the telephone, the company published extracts from articles extolling its virtues. "Sometimes my husband telephones to me from the City that 'he has asked two friends to dine with us in the evening; to be sure to give them a good dinner, and to order a carriage to take us to the theatre in the evening'" (Three Victorian Telephone Directories).

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

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