The 1898-1899 Season

By Thirza Cady

The fall season of 1898 began 31 August, with a presentation of The Gypsy Earl, by George Sims. It successfully followed the formula set up earlier by Henry Pettitt. Although comedy had changed in the late 1880s and 1890s, melodrama at the Adelphi remained much the same, to the apparent delight of its faithful audiences.

Sims did change the formula of the plot slightly. By the middle of the second act the hero, played by Fred Terry, has overcome his villainous brother, so the attention shifts to the heroine who is implicated in the murder of the villain. The play revolves about the romantic life of a band of gypsies. Both the hero and heroine have spent much of their lives in a gypsy camp. Terry's played the rightful heir to stately Framborough Hall, despite the fact that his younger brother is the current Lord Trevannion. The heroine who was carried off in childhood by gypsies is in reality the daughter of a "worthy justice of the peace."

The gypsy theme occupies much of the settings and scenes, such as a dance of the tribe in the wood and a cursing scene when the heroine is expelled from the group because she tries to warn the villain of his impending fate. The spectacular escape in this case had the hero climbing out on, and swinging from, the arms of a windmill in his dash for freedom.

The holiday season brought a pantomime to the Adelphi. The adventures of Dick Whittington, with music by Oscar Barrett and words by Horace Lennard, opened 26 December 1898. It was a lavish affair, complete with dancing, comedy and lively action. The play appealed to children with its straightforward adaption of the story, and to adults with its boisterous humor. The latter included some timely burlesque of current public figures (such as Lord Kitchener and Major Marchand). Dick Whittington played to appreciative audiences until 18 February 1899.

The Man in the Iron Mask, produced by Norman Forbes, opened on 3 March 1899. Norman Forbes played the dual role of the king and his twin. Critics agreed he performed the arduous task with considerable ability. The bishop, who manipulated the switches in the king and prisoner, was played by W. H. Vernon. The Times (13 March 1899) felt his excellent acting contributed to the success of the play. The play ran through the third week in May.

Sarah Bernhardt returned in June. She was well received as Tosca--"fresher and more wonderful in her mastery of her art" (Times, 9 June 1899). After this opening, the troupe presented a new version of Hamlet, translated into French by Eugene Morand and Marcel Schwob. According to the reviewer, despite translating into prose, they aimed at and achieved "remarkable fidelity to the original" (Times, 13 June 1899). Mme. Bernhardt's "pleasant, humorous, very gay prince" was well received. However, despite the fact that some passages were cut (e.g. Polonius' advice to Laertes), the play was not over until after midnight. "A wag in the gallery who whistled 'We won't go home till morning' during the last entr'acte was thought to have neatly expressed the feeling of the house" (Times, 13 June).

Mme. Bernhardt's season was followed by another French repertory troupe, that of M. Coquelin, who presented Moliere's Tartuffe and Les Precieuses Ridicules as matinees, and an extremely successful revival of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac in the evenings. (Coquelin had presented Cyrano the previous year at the Lyceum.)

Both Coquelin and Jean Coquelin were consistently praised by reviewers, but one member of the company who was panned with some consistency was the unfortunate Mlle. Esquilar. The Times (28 June 1899) was less than flattering in describing her Roxanne in Cyrano or her other roles in Mademoiselle de la Seigliere and in the encore week's performance of La Gendre de M. Poirier.

After two weeks of matinee comedies and Cyrano, Coquelin presented a week of selections from his older repertoire. In addition to the aforementioned La Gendre de M. Poirier, his company presented Moliere's La Mariage Farce and La Joie Fait Peur finishing its run and ending the season on 15 July.

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

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