The 1897-1898 Season

By Thirza Cady

The fall season began on 9 September with In the Days of the Duke, by Haddon Chambers and Comyns Carr. The plot of many Adelphi dramas generally took a back seat to the setting, and this play is no exception. It opens with a prologue in India in 1800, then shifts to England and the Continent in 1814 and 1815, with the fourth act on the fields of Waterloo. Most impressive were the ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, the gambling rooms at Palais Royal, Paris, and the glade where a duel was fought between the hero (William Terriss) and one of the villains, Jim O'Hara, played ably by J. D. Beveridge.

The lion's share of praise went to the villains, J. D. Beveridge, as O'Hara, and Charles Cartwright as the chief villain, Captain Lanson. While Jessie Millward received her usual praise for "sweet womanliness," her part gave her too few opportunities to demonstrate any more ability. Miss Marian Terry was warmly praised for her work. The Times believed that so excellent a comedy actress was somewhat wasted in melodrama, but admitted she did so admirably (10 September 1897, p. 8). The comedy, although not much in evidence, was capably handled by Harry Nicholls and Vane Featherston.

The Theatre complained that the hero and heroine were too often relegated to subordinate positions. Terriss had a role "after his own heart" but had only to look handsome and speak his lines earnestly and manfully as the heroic and persecuted Colonel Aylmer (1 October 1897, p. 192-94).

In the Days of the Duke was replaced on 24 November by a revival of the English production of Secret Service, which had preceded the Adelphi's fall season. This play continued for less than three weeks before the tragic events at the stage door on 16 December 1897.

George Rowell believes the hectic tempo and desperate search for acceptable entertainment during that summer and autumn had left Jessie Millward depressed and full of foreboding. She even had a recurring dream that Terriss called out to her from a locked room. She also had a number of stage door encounters with a "short dark man with a pronounced squint." Millward later related: "In the midst of my dressing I heard Mr. Terriss put his key in the pass door, and then there was a strange silence" (quoted in William Terriss and Richard Prince, p. 56).

The silence was apparently the actual time of the stabbing, when Prince dashed across the street as Terriss bent to unlock the private entrance. He stabbed him twice in the back and again in the heart when Terriss turned to face him. The last wound proved fatal. He cried out to his friend waiting in the cab: "My God, I am stabbed." The friend, John Henry Graves, seized Prince and held him until a constable appeared. Terriss, meanwhile, staggered inside the theatre and collapsed in the arms of Jessie Millward.

The audience in the theatre that night was met with a cryptic announcement by Herbert Budd, the Adelphi's assistant acting manager:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply grieved and pained to announce to you a serious, nay terrible, accident which will render the performance of Secret Service this evening quite impossible. I will also ask you to pass out into the street as quietly as possible. It is hardly necessary for me to add that your money will be returned on application at the pay boxes (Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1897).

In the Times the next day, Terriss was described as a "too sound and well-graced actor not to acquit himself with credit in all he undertook; he had degrees of success, but none of failure." He had become identified with melodrama, most especially melodrama at the Adelphi. Terriss was said to be as simple and straightforward off stage as on. George Bernard Shaw was so impressed that he wrote the part of Dick Dudgeon for him. Alas, poor honest Bill was not up to the task. He fell asleep during the author's reading, and Shaw stormed out in a huff (William Terriss and Richard Prince, p. 54).

The theatre reopened on 27 December with the resumption of performances of Secret Service. Terriss's part of Captain Thorne was filled by Herbert Waring. While Bella Pateman reappeared in her role as Mrs. Varney, the part of her daughter Edith was played by May Whitty, who replaced Jessie Millward. Harry Nicholls was replaced by J. D. Beveridge in the role of Brigadier-General Nelson Randolph.

At the end of January 1898, Secret Service took a respite. On 21 January, two plays were presented. The opener was B. B. by Montagu Williams and F. C. Burnand, followed by the drama Charlotte Corday by H. Kyrle Bellew, which had played previously at the Grand Theatre in Islington.

The second week of February brought a Wednesday performance of The Lady of Lyons. Although B. B. and Charlotte Corday returned for two more performances, they were replaced on the weekend by The Lady of Lyons. Reviews of the play and the performances of the leading actor and actress--Kyrle Bellew and Mrs. Brown Potter--were not enthusiastic.

In March, another play was added. A one-act farce, Number 1 Round the Corner, was staged before The Lady of Lyons evening performances. This continued until the last performances on 17 March 1898.

April brought another American melodrama. The Heart of Maryland by David Belasco opened on Saturday, 9 April. It is another story of the American Civil War, replete with warlike conditions such as cannonading in the wings and unintelligible commands continually barked on stage. The play, like Secret Service, takes place in Maryland, with equal attention and favor given to adherents of the Northern and Southern forces.

Many of the ingredients so necessary to melodrama are present: a Northern officer in love with a Southern lady, spies, treachery and innumerable coincidences. A theatrical "trick" revived from an early nineteenth century play is employed. A bell used to sound an alarm that would endanger the hero is silenced by the heroine who cushions the clapper with her own body. The Times claimed that the author was so pleased with this "invention" that the rest of the plot suffered. The reviewer was not particularly impressed with the acting either, though he did say the play was well received by the Saturday night audience--largely composed of Americans (11 April 1898). The play continued until the end of June.

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

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