Theatre

The Dramatic Censor

Source: Francis Gentleman, The Dramatic Censor; or, Critical Companion, vol. 1 (London: J. Bell, 1770), pp.196-198

Text: Portia has fallen to the lot of several capital ladies; and indeed she not only requires, but merits the exertion of eminent abilities; Mrs. WOFFINGTON, whose deportment in a male character, was so free and elegant, whose figure was so proportionate and delicate, notwithstanding a voice unfavourable for declamation, must, in our opinion, stand foremost; her first scene was supported with an uncommon degree of spirited archness; her behaviour during Bassanio’s choice of the caskets, conveyed a strong picture of unstudied anxiety; the trial scene she sustained with amiable dignity, the speech upon mercy she marked as well as any body else; and, in the fifth act, she carried on the sham quarrel in a very laughable manner; to sum up all, while in petticoats, she shewed the woman of solid sense, and real fashion; when in breeches, the man of education, judgment and gentility—Mrs. ABINGTON treads so much in her steps, and has so many of the happy requisites just mentioned, that we make no scruple of placing her second upon the whole; nay, in some particular places, we think her equal.

Miss MACKLIN undoubtedly speaks the part in an unexceptionable manner, but we deem her rather too petit in person and expression; Mrs. CLIVE, who obtained no small share of applause, was a ludicrous burlesque on the character, every feature and limb contrasted the idea SHAKESPEARE gives us of Portia in the spirited scene she was clumsy, and spoke them in the same strain of chambermaid delicacy she did Lappet or Flippanta; in the grave part—sure never was such a female put into breeches before!—she was awkwardly dissonant; and, as if conscious she could not get through without the aid of trick, flew to the pitiful resource of taking off the peculiarity of some judge or noted lawyer; from which wise stroke, she created laughter in a scene where the deepest attention should be preserved, till Gratiano’s retorts upon the Jew, work a contrary effect.

Mrs. YATES, with an amazing degree of condescension has lately vouchsafed to perform Portia, for that night only—that night only, the phrase is so modest, that we repeat it—if she can do the part better than any body else, the public in general, and the managers in particular, have a right to expect her in it whenever the play is done; if she is not so capable as the person in possession of it, why should she impose upon her friends, even for one night; this is one out of many low, theatrical finesses, thrown out as baits to catch gudgeons; however, if this lady thinks criticism has any cause to languish for a repetition of her Portia, she is utterly mistaken -, since it is certain that, deducting her great name, and some merit in the fourth act, she has shewn nothing more than that capital talents may occasionally dwindle into very middling execution.

Comments: Francis Gentleman (1728-1784) was an Irish actor, playwright and theatrical commentator. His book The Dramatic Censor analyses the theatrical repertoire of the period, with assessments of the individual roles as played by the leading actors he had seen. The Irish actress Peg Woffington (1720-1760) first played Portia in London in 1743. The other actresses described are Frances Abington (1737-1815), who played Portia many times in the 1760s; Maria Macklin (1733-1781), who also played Portia frequently in the 1760s; Kitty Clive (1711-1785), who first performed Portia in 1741 and many times thereafter, despite regular comment that she was unsuited to the role; and tragic actress Mary Ann Yates (1728-1787), whose one-off benefit performance in The Merchant of Venice took place at Covent Garden on 27 March 1770.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean

Illustration accompanying the text

Source: [John Rickman], Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, on Discovery; performed in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779 (London, E. Newbery, 1781), pp. 156-158

Text: On the 29th, the pinnaces were ordered out, and we proceeded to Oparree, in the same state as on our first visit. At the landing-place we were received with uncommon marks of friendship. Every chief in that part of the island, of which Ottoo was the Earee-da-hai or Lord paramount, to the number of 500 and more, attended, and conducted us to the king’s house or palace, where a sumptuous banquet was provided, and after dinner a more numerous and brilliant company of performers assembled, at the theatre for our entertainment, than we had ever seen on any stage in the tropical islands before.

There is a sameness in their drama, that admits of little or, no variation, as perhaps to foreigners, who are unacquainted with the language and manners of a country, there may appear to be in every stage-exhibition, wherever performed. Be that as it may. The dresses on this occasion were entirely new, and by far more showy than formerly; the number of dancers were increased; ten young ladies composed the first group, with their heads most magnificently ornamented with beads, red feathers, shells of the most beautiful colours, and wreathed with flowers in so elegant a style, as hardly to be excelled; had their music been equal to their performance, this part of the exhibition would have been compleat.

A party of warriors were next introduced, dressed in their war-habits, consisting, as has already been observed, of different coloured cloth, of their own manufacture, so ingeniously fashioned and blended together with so much art, as, with the helmets that cover their heads, to fill the stage with men, of whose majestic figure it is not easy to convey an idea. These were armed with spears, lances, and battle-axes, and exhibited all the forms of attack and defence which are practiced in real action. The principal performers were the king’s brother and a chief of gigantic stature, who displayed such wonderful grimaces and distortions of face and countenance, by way of provocation and challenge, as were not only laughable in some attitudes, but terrible in others. After these disappeared, the players were brought forward, and performed a more serious piece than we had yet seen, at which the natives sat graver and more composed than usual. And the whole performance concluded with a dance of ten boys, drest in every respect like the girls in the first scene, with their hair flowing in ringlets down their shoulders, and their heads ornamented in a very theatrical style.

When the play was over we returned to our boats, attended by the whole assembly, who accompanied us to the water-side, where the king took a most affectionate leave.

Comments: John Rickman (1737-1818) was Second Lieutenant on the explorer Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage, 1776-1780, to New Zealand, the Hawaiian islands and the Bering Strait, in covert search of a North West Passage. Cook was killed on their return to the Hawaiian islands. Rickman kept a log of the journey which was published anonymously in 1781. This passage comes from the visit paid by Cook’s two ships, Resolution and Discovery, to Tahiti in August 1777 (the official purpose of the voyage was to return the Pacific islander Omai, who had been to England, to his home). Cook had first visited Tahiti in 1769, and again in 1773-74. Oparree [Pare] was on the island of Otaheite.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Philip Hone

Astor Place Opera-House Riots, via NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-280e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Source: Bayard Tuckerman (ed.), The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1889), vol. 1, pp. 359-362

Production: William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Astor Place Opera House, New York, 7 and 10 May 1849

Text: May 8.—Mr. McCready commenced an engagement last evening at the Opera-House, Astor place, and was to have performed the part of “Macbeth,” whilst his rival Mr. Forrest, appeared in the same part at the Broadway theatre. A violent animosity has existed on the part of the latter theatrical hero against his rival, growing out of some differences in England; but with no cause, that I can discover, except that one is a gentleman, and the other is a vulgar, arrogant loafer, with a pack of kindred rowdies at his heels. Of these retainers a regularly organized force was employed to raise a riot at the Opera-House and drive Mr. McCready off the stage, in which, to the disgrace of the city, the ruffians succeeded. On the appearance of the “Thane of Cawdor,” he was saluted with a shower of missiles, rotten eggs, and other unsavoury objects, with shouts and yells of the most abusive epithets. In the midst of this disgraceful riot the performance was suspended, the respectable part of the audience dispersed, and the vile band of Forresters were left in possession of the house. This cannot end here; the respectable part of our citizens will never consent to be put down by a mob raised to serve the purpose of such a fellow as Forrest. Recriminations will be resorted to, and a series of riots will have possession of the theatres of the opposing parties.

May 10. — The riot at the Opera-House on Monday night was children’s play compared with the disgraceful scenes which were enacted in our part of this devoted city this evening, and the melancholy loss of life to which the outrageous proceedings of the mob naturally led.

An appeal to Mr. McCready had been made by many highly respectable citizens, and published in the papers, inviting him to finish his engagement at the Opera-House, with an implied pledge that they would stand by him against the ferocious mob of Mr. Forrest’s friends, who had determined that McCready should not be allowed to play, whilst at the same time their oracle was strutting, unmolested, his “ hour upon the stage” of the Broadway theatre. This announcement served as a firebrand in the mass of combustibles left smouldering from the riot of the former occasion. The Forresters perceived that their previous triumph was incomplete, and a new conspiracy was formed to accomplish effectually their nefarious designs. Inflammatory notices were posted in the upper ward, meetings were regularly organized, and bands of ruffians, gratuitously supplied with tickets by richer rascals, were sent to take possession of the theatre. The police, however, were beforehand with them, and a large body of their force was posted in different parts of the house.

When Mr. McCready appeared he was assailed in the same manner as on the former occasion; but he continued on the stage and performed his part with firmness, amidst the yells and hisses of the mob. The strength of the police, and their good conduct, as well as that of the Mayor, Recorder, and other public functionaries, succeeded in preventing any serious injury to the property within doors, and many arrests were made; but the war raged with frightful violence in the adjacent streets. The mob — a dreadful one in numbers and ferocity—assailed the extension of the building, broke in the windows, and demolished some of the doors. I walked up to the corner of Astor place, but was glad to make my escape. On my way down, opposite the New York Hotel, I met a detachment of troops, consisting of about sixty cavalry and three hundred infantry, fine-looking fellows, well armed, who marched steadily to the field of action. Another detachment went by the way of Lafayette place. On their arrival they were assailed by the mob, pelted with stones and brickbats, and several were carried off severely wounded.

Under this provocation, with the sanction of the civil authorities, orders were given to fire. Three or four volleys were discharged; about twenty persons were killed and a large number wounded. It is to be lamented that in the number were several innocent persons, as is always the case in such affairs. A large proportion of the mob being lookers-on, who, putting no faith in the declaration of the magistrates that the fatal order was about to be given, refused to retire, and shared the fate of the rioters. What is to be the issue of this unhappy affair cannot be surmised; the end is not yet.

May 11— I walked up this morning to the field of battle, in Astor place. The Opera-House presents a shocking spectacle, and the adjacent buildings are smashed with bullet holes. Mrs. Langdon’s house looks as if had withstood a siege. Groups of people were standing around, some justifying the interference of the military, but a large proportion were savage as tigers with the smell of blood …

May 12. — Last night passed off tolerably quietly, owing to the measures taken by the magistrates and police. But it is consolatory to know that law and order have thus far prevailed. The city authorities have acted nobly. The whole military force was under arms all night, and a detachment of United States troops was also held in reserve. All the approaches to the Opera-House were strictly guarded, and no transit permitted. The police force, with the addition of a thousand special constables, were employed in every post of danger; and although the lesson has been dearly bought, it is of great value, inasmuch as the fact has been established that law and order can be maintained under a Republican form of government.

Comments: Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an American businessman and diarist, who was Mayor of New York 1825-1826. The cause of the riot at the Astor Place Opera House on 10 May 1849 was the rivalry between the American actor Edwin Forrest and the British actor William Charles Macready, which was blown up by the press during Macready’s 1848-40 tour of the United States, cast in Britain vs. America terms. A performance of Macready’s Macbeth at the Astor Place in New York on 7 May 1849 was halted after rioting in the theatre. On 10 May another performance was interrupted by rioting among rival supporters of the two actors which spilled out into the streets. The New York State Militia was called, and at least twenty-two people were shot dead, with dozens more injured.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Gielgud’s Letters

Source: Letter from John Gielgud to Irene Worth, 20 June 1970, in Richard Mangan (ed.), Gielgud’s Letters (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), p. 356

Production: William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Mermaid Theatre, London, 19 June 1970

Text: Went to Jonathan Miller’s Tempest at the Mermaid yesterday (greatly praised by the critics) with Fabia Drake. Couldn’t bear Jonathan M.’s production – ponderous, ugly, slow and flat-footed, no sense of grouping or movement though a packed and enthusiastically attentive young audience – hundreds of pretty girls with crackling shopping bags and sunglasses pushed up into their hair. Only Angela Pleasance (Donald’s daughter) most interesting as a real child Miranda, very plain indeed, but hushed and eagerly intense – one could really believe she’d never seen a man except her Dad! – and a very good red-haired, toothless, Negro Caliban. But the rest – my God – awful pseudo Velasquez costumes, everyone in black including Ariel, a grave 30-year-old Negro also, and three awful coloured goddesses who never looked at the lovers and sang the whole Masque to pseudo Monteverdi. At Cambridge the whole thing would deserve praise as an interesting and promising experiment but not in London.

Comments: John Gielgud (1904-2004) was a British actor and theatre director. The production he saw of The Tempest at the Mermaid Theatre was directed by Jonathan Miller. Graham Crowden was Prospero and Norman Beaton Ariel. Caliban was played by Rudolph Walker.

Daniel Webster in England

Source: Edward Gray (ed.), Daniel Webster in England: Journal of Harriette Story Paige, 1839 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1917), pp. 72-73

Production: William Shakespeare, Henry V, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 29 June 1839

Text: In the evening by particular request, and invitation from Macready the actor, we went accompanied by Colonel Webb, of New York, and Captain Stockton to witness the representation of Shakspeare’s play of King Henry V. Mr. Webster had gone to the House of Lords, and contrary to our expectations, did not get to “Covent Garden” for the evening. This play has been restored by Macready, who takes the part of the King, his performance was admirable; too much cannot be said in praise of his unwearied efforts to restore the British drama to its former reputation and eminence. The King is seen in the play, to embark from England at the Tower Stairs, with his Court, retinue &c., then the Cliffs of Dover are seen, and the whole fleet appears sailing onward. The sun sets, the moon rises, finally, the French coast of Boulogne is visible, and gradually becomes more distinct. The bombardment takes place, then clouds appear, roll over, and conceal all. Then comes a prologue, or “chorus,” spoken by a figure, dressed as Time; he keeps the spectators informed of all the events that have occurred, and behind him, is a pictorial exhibition, of these scenes occurring, so skilfully managed that it seems reality. After this, the clouds disappear and the actors are again visible, but before each act, Time with his chorus appears, and from him we learn the course of events. Covent Garden is a spacious, large theatre; our box was on a level with the orchestra, and below the stage, but so near to it, that our opportunity for enjoying this novel play, was particularly good.

Comments: Harriette Story Page (1806-1863) was the sister-in-law of the American politician Daniel Webster. She accompanied him of his European visit in 1839. The production she saw of Henry V at Covent Garden starred William Macready, with scenery and dioramas designed by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield. Part of what Macready ‘restored’ to the play was the part of the Chorus, cur from earlier productions.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Alba, the Month’s Minde of a Melancholy Lover

Source: Extract from Robert Tofte, ‘Alba, the Month’s Minde of a Melancholy Lover’ (1598, third part, stanzas 81-84), reprinted in Rev. Alexander B. Grossart, Alba. The Month’s Minde of a Melancholy Lover, by Robert Tofte, Gentleman (1880), p. 105

Production: William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, London, 1590s

Text: LOVES LABOUR LOST, I once did see a Play
Ycleped so, so called to my pain.
Which I to hear to my small Joy did stay,
Giving attendance on my forward dame:
My misgiving mind presaging to me Ill,
Yet was I drawn to see it ‘gainst my Will.

This Play no Play, but Plague was unto me,
For there I lost the Love I liked most:
And what to others seemde a Jest to be,
I, that (in earnest) found unto my cost,
To every one (save me) twas Comicall,
Whilst Tragick like to me it did befall.

Each Actor played in cunning wise his part,
But chiefly Those entrapt in Cupids snare;
Yet all was fained, ’twas not from the hart,
They seemed to grieve, but yet they felt no care:
‘Twas I that Griefe (indeed) did bear in breast,
The others did but make a show in Jest.

Yet neither faining theirs, nor my meere Truth,
Could make her once so much as for to smile:
Whilst she (despite of pitie milde and ruth)
Did sit as skorning of my Woes the while.
Thus did she see fit to see LOVE lose his LOVE,
Like hardend Rock that force nor power can move.

Comments: Robert Tofte (c.1562-1620) was an English poet and translator. His long 1598 poem ‘Alba, The Months Minde of a Melancholy Lover’ contains the first reference in print to William Shakespeare‘s play Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Journals of Arnold Bennett

Lilian Braithwaite and Noël Coward, via Wikipedia

Source: Arnold Bennett, journal entry 4 February 1925, in Newman Flower (ed.), The Journals of Arnold Bennett: 1921-1928 (London: Cassell, 1933), pp. 73-74

Production: Noël Coward, The Vortex, Royalty Theatre, London, 4 February 1925

Text: Wednesday, February 4th
“The Vortex”, by Noel Coward, Royalty Theatre. As Pauline Smith was ill, I took Evelyn Foster instead. This play has made a great stir. First act played 43 minutes, and the first half-hour, and more, was spent in merely creating an atmosphere. Talk whose direction you couldn’t follow. No fair hint of plot till nearly the end – and hardly even then. Five unforeseen entrances of important characters. One might have been excused. In 2nd Act, some tiny glimpses of dramatic talent and ingenuities. the end of this Act, where the son plays the piano louder and louder while his mother makes love to a young man, is rather effective, original, and harrowing. The atomosphere of a country-house week-end party is fairly well got. Technique marred by important characters coming in unperceived and overhearing remarks. the 3rd Act contains the whole of the play, and is in effect a duologue between mother and son. Coward plays the son well, and Lilian Braithwaite gets through the mother as a sort of tour de force, but she never gives a convincing picture of an abandoned woman. The end is certainly harrowing to a high degree. But not much effect of beauty. Some smartness in the play, and certainly the germs of an effective dramatic skill; but really I saw nothing that was true except in minor details. I dozed off once in the last Act and Evelyn had to waken me.

Comments: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a British novelist and playwright. Noël Coward‘s controversial play The Vortex originally opened at the Everyman on 25 November 1924, transferring later to the Royalty and then the Comedy.

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

Source: A French Traveller [Louis Simond], Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811: with remarks on the country, its arts, literature, and politics, and on the manners and customs of its inhabitants (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1815), pp. 126-127

Production: John G. Millingen and Charles E. Horn, The Bee-hive, Lyceum Theatre, London, 30 April 1811

Text: April 30. — I have already given a literal translation of one of those lyric pieces which are introduced in many English farces, and are often sung between he play and the farce. At Edinburgh we heard Bannister, and here Mathews, sing some of these select pieces with a great deal of true comic, and what is called here dry humour. Yesterday, particularly, Mathews delighted the public of the Lyceum in a new play, called the Bee-hive, played forty times running. The song of an inn-keeper, who enumerates the contents of his larder and kitchen, was encored again and again, with frantic applause. Other songs, however, which happened to be less in the popular taste, were received with coolness, and we heard some men behind us exclaim, among themselves, “Italian squalls!— What a shame, on a British theatre, — Just like the opera by G— !” Whenever I have expressed any surprise at the state of the English stage, I have been told that it was only the amusement of the vulgar, and that if I chose to partake of it, I must not complain. Admitting that people of fashion scarcely ever go to the theatre, yet the lowest of the people do not frequent it more then they do; — it is in fact filled by the middle class, neither the highest nor the lowest, and that is precisely the class where I should look for the true and legitimate national taste. Besides, if the theatres of Covent-Garden and Drury-Lane are for the vulgar, what other is there left for those who rank themselves above the vulgar? The opera, — in other words, there is no national theatre.

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. The Bee-hive was a two-act music farce with libretto by John G. Millingen and music by Charles E. Horn.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 17 August 1667

Production: Thomas Heywood, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody; or, Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, Bridges Street theatre, London, 17 August 1667

Text: At noon home to dinner, and presently my wife and I and Sir W. Pen to the King’s playhouse, where the house extraordinary full; and there was the King and Duke of York to see the new play, “Queen Elizabeth’s Troubles and the History of Eighty Eight.” I confess I have sucked in so much of the sad story of Queen Elizabeth, from my cradle, that I was ready to weep for her sometimes; but the play is the most ridiculous that sure ever come upon the stage; and, indeed, is merely a shew, only shews the true garbe of the Queen in those days, just as we see Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth painted; but the play is merely a puppet play, acted by living puppets. Neither the design nor language better; and one stands by and tells us the meaning of things: only I was pleased to see Knipp dance among the milkmaids, and to hear her sing a song to Queen Elizabeth; and to see her come out in her night-gowne with no lockes on, but her bare face and hair only tied up in a knot behind; which is the comeliest dress that ever I saw her in to her advantage.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The play he saw was Thomas Heywood‘s 1605 If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody; or, Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, performed at Bridges Street theatre. Heywood’s play was in two parts; Pepys saw part one. Knipp is the actress Elizabeth Knepp, frequently mentioned in the diary.

Links: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1667/08/17

Boswell for the Defence

Source: William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Frederick A. Pottle, Boswell for the Defence: 1769-1774 (London: William Heinemann, 1960), p. 238

Production: George Colman the elder, The Man of Business, and William O’Brien, Cross Purposes, Edinburgh, 16 July 1774

Text: Saturday 16 July [1774]: … At six I had a hackney-coach which carried Mrs. Montgomerie, Claud, my wife, and me to the play. There was just forty people in the boxes and pit. The play was The Man of Business, and the farce, Cross Purposes. It was wonderful to see with what spirit the players performed. In one view it was more agreeable tonight than being at a crowded play. One could attend fully to what passed on the stage, whereas in a great audience the attention is distracted and one has a great deal to do in behaving properly. The difference was the same as viewing a country when upon a calm horse at a slow walk or viewing it upon a fiery horse at a gallop, when you must attend to the reins and to your seat. But the laughable passages did not go off so well as in a crowd, for laughter is augmented by sympathetic power. Supped quietly at home.

Comments: James Boswell (1740-1795) was a Scottish lawyer, biographer and diarist, best known for his Life of Samuel Johnson. He was born in Edinburgh, the son of Lord Auchinleck. The plays he saw were the comedy The Man of Business by George Colman the Elder and the afterpiece Cross-Purposes by the actor William O’Brien, both men being known to Boswell. I have not been able to identify the small theatre Boswell visited.