Covent Garden Theatre (London)

Riot at Covent Garden Theatre

‘Riot at Covent Garden Theatre, 1763 print, Theatre and Performance Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum

Source: The Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1763, vol. XXXII, p. 97

Production: Thomas Arne, Artaxerxes, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 24 February 1763

Text: A riot happened at Covent-Garden theatre occasioned by a demand being made for full prices at the opera of Artaxerxes. The mischief done was the greatest ever, known on any occasion of the like kind; all the benches of the boxes and pit being entirely tore up, the glasses and chandeliers broken, and the linings of the boxes cut to pieces. The rashness of the rioters was so great, that they cut away the wooden pillars between the boxes, so that if the inside of them had not been iron, they would have brought down the galleries upon their heads. The damages done amount to at least 2000l. Four persons concern’d in the riot have been committed to the Gatehouse.

Comments: The opera Artaxerxes by Thomas Arne premiered successfully at Covent Garden on 2 February 1762. When it was revived at the same theatre on 24 February 1763 a riot occurred in protest at the abolition of half-price admissions. It has been the custom to sell half-price tickets for latecomers who would see only the short afterpiece rather than the main attraction of the evening. This change in policy was fiercely opposed by some and led to several such riots, at Drury Lane and Covent-Garden. The protests caused the half-price concession to be re-introduced when the theatre re-opened on March 2nd. 2000l is £2,000.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen

Margaret Farrell, who became Margaret Kennedy on her second marriage, as Macheath in 1777, University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection

Source: George Atkinson Ward, The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen, an American in England, from 1775 to 1783 (Boston, Little, Brown and company, 1864 [4th ed.]), p. 305

Production: John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 25 September 1780

Text: Sept. 25. At Covent Garden Theatre; performance, “Beggar’s Opera;” parts well played, but great impropriety, not to say indecency, in Mrs. Kennedy’s personating McHeath. Bravery, gallantry, and a fearless disregard of death, the characteristics of that notorious highwayman, which female softness awkwardly imitates. Following entertainment, falsely so called; execrably foolish and childish. I am sorry to arraign even the shilling gallery for want of judgment, in suffering such unmeaning stuff to pass for a farce.

Comments: Samuel Curwen (1715-1802) was an American merchant and justice. As a British loyalist fled America in 1775, having been attacked for not opposing the British military action at Lexington and Concord, and spent ten years in Britain, during which time he became a supporter of the American cause. John Gay‘s ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera was performed at Covent Garden on 25 September 1780 with the contralto Margaret Kennedy, well-known for her performances in male roles, playing Macheath.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Distressed Mother

Source: William Hazlitt, ‘The Distressed Mother’, Examiner, 22 September 1816 pp. 9-10, reproduced in A View of the English Stage, or, A Series of Dramatic Criticisms (London: Robert Stodart, 1818), pp. 108-110

Production: Ambrosse Philips, The Distrest Mother, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 16 or 20 September 1816

Text: A Mr. Macready appeared at Covent Garden Theatre on Monday and Friday, in the character of Orestes in the Distressed Mother, a bad play for the display of his powers, in which, however, he succeeded in making a decidedly favourable impression upon the audience. His voice is powerful in the highest degree, and at the same time possesses great harmony and modulation. His face is not equally calculated for the stage. He declaims better than anybody we have lately heard. He is accused of being violent, and of wanting pathos. Neither of these objections is true. His manner of delivering the first speeches in this play was admirable, and the want of increasing interest afterwards was the fault of the author rather than the actor. The fine suppressed tone in which he assented to Pyrrhus’s command to convey the message to Hermione was a test of his variety of power, and brought down repeated acclamations from the house. We do not lay much stress on his mad scene, though that was very good in its kind, for mad scenes do not occur very often, and, when they do, had in general better be omitted. We have not the slightest hesitation in saying that Mr. Macready is by far the best tragic actor that has come out in our remembrance, with the exception of Mr. Kean. We, however, heartily wish him well out of this character of Orestes. It is a kind of forlorn hope in tragedy. There is nothing to be made of it on the English stage beyond experiment. It is a trial, not a triumph. These French plays puzzle an English audience exceedingly. They cannot attend to the actor, for the difficulty they have in understanding the author. We think it wrong in any actor of great merit (which we hold Mr. Macready to be) to come out in an ambiguous character, to salve his reputation. An actor is like a man who throws himself from the top of a steeple by a rope. He should choose the highest steeple he can find, that, if he does not succeed in coming safe to the ground, he may break his neck at once, and so put himself and the spectators out of farther pain.

Ambrose Phillips’s Distressed Mother is a very good translation from Racine’s Andromache. It is an alternation of topics, of pros and cons, on the casuistry of domestic and state affairs, and produced a great effect of ennui on the audience. When you hear one of the speeches in these rhetorical tragedies, you know as well what will be the answer to it, as when you see the tide coming up the river – you know that it will return again. The other actors filled their parts with successful mediocrity.

We highly disapprove of the dresses worn on this occasion, and supposed to be the exact Greek costume. We do not know that the Greek heroes were dressed like women, or wore their long hair straight down their backs. Or even supposing that they did, this is not generally known or understood by the audience; and though the preservation of the ancient costume is a good thing, it is of more importance not to shock our present prejudices. The managers of Covent Garden are not the Society of Antiquaries. The attention to costume is only necessary to preserve probability; in the present instance, it could only violate it, because there is nothing to lead the public opinion to expect such an exhibition. We know how the Turks are dressed, from seeing them in the streets; we know the costume of the Greek statues, from seeing casts in the shop windows; we know that savages go naked, from reading voyages and travels; but we do not know that the Grecian chiefs at the Siege of Troy were dressed as Mr. Charles Kemble, Mr. Abbott, and Mr. Macready were the other evening in the Distressed Mother. It is a discovery of the managers, and they should have kept their secret to themselves. The epithet in Homer, applied to the Grecian warriors, kάρη kομόωντες, is not any proof. It signifies, not long-haired, but literally bushy-headed, which would come nearer to the common Brutus head than this long dangling slip of hair. The oldest and most authentic models we have are the Elgin Marbles, and it is certain the Theseus is a crop. One would think this standard might satisfy the Committee of Managers in point of classical antiquity. But no such thing. They are much deeper in Greek costume and the history of the fabulous ages, than those old-fashioned fellows, the Sculptors who lived in the time of Pericles. But we have said quite enough on this point.

Comments: William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was an English essayist, journalist and literary critic. William Macready (1793-1873) made his debut on the London stage on 16 September 1816 at Covent Garden in Ambrose PhilipsThe Distrest Mother, a translation of Jean Racine‘s Andromaque. Macready played Orestes, alongside Charles Kemble and William Abbot.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The O.P. War

George and Isaak Cruikshank, ‘Acting magistrates committing themselves being their first appearance on this stage as performed at the National Theatre Covent Garden. Sepr 18 1809’ © The Trustees of the British Museum. The Riot Act was read from the stage on 18 September, but the placards, rattles etc. did not start appearing until the following day.

Source: Thomas Tegg, The Rise, Progress, and Termination of the O.P. War, in Poetic Epistles, or Hudibrastic Letters, From Ap Simpkins in Town, to his Friend Ap Davies in Wales; including all the best songs, placards, toasts &c. &c.Which were written, exhibited, and given en the Occasion; with illustrative notes (London: Thomas Tegg, 1810), pp. 1-6

Production: William Shakespeare, Macbeth, plus The Quaker, New Covent Garden Theatre, London, 18 September 1809

Text: LETTER I

From Ap Simpkins to Ap Davies

SINCE now the O.P. battle’s o’er,
And peace the partisans restore,
To you, Ap Davies, my dear friend,
A brief account of all I’ll send,
From the beginning to the end:
But, lest your patience I should tire,
And send you more than you’d desire,
Lest I too many letters might
On this theatric contest write,
Which letters, as they’ll go by post.
Would in the end some shillings cost,
On leading points I’ll only dwell,
And all that’s entertaining tell.

Where the old playhouse lately blazed,
In Covent Garden, soon was raised
Another playhouse, as intended,
On which the managers expended
A sum indeed beyond all bounds,
It was thrice fifty thousand pounds!!!
In ten month’s time it was erected,
And from th’ exterior much expected.
But though so very grand without,
Within, ’tis very plain no doubt,
‘Twas on the eighteenth of September,
(The day I very well remember)
For which Macbeth was advertised;
A play so generally prized.
Near to the doors what numbers push’d!
As soon as opened in they rush’d.
At first the pit seem’d rather dull —
By six o’clock the house was full;
And the first lady that appear’d,
With loud huzzas by all was cheer’d.
The band struck up God save the King,
And several times the song they sing :
Then Rule Britannia next they play’d,
Which some to sing also essay’d.
The band their music might have sav’d,
While hats and handkerchiefs were wav’d.
At length the curtain up they drew,
And Kemble on the stage we view.
To give us an address he came.
To talk of “sparks from Greece” — the “flame
Of “an illumined age” — “the fire
Of Shakspeare,” which we must admire:
But so vociferously they roar’d,
I did not hear a single word.
The play began, but at this time
‘Twas like the Circus pantomime,
And gave as little satisfaction
As Elliston’s ballet of action.
When Kemble entered as Macbeth,
It was in vain he spent his breath,
For not a word could reach the ear:
E’en Mrs. Siddons I cou’dn’t hear.
With noise was Charles Kemble hail’d —
The uproar every where prevail’d.
“Off! off!” “Old prices!” were the cries;
“No Catalani!” and “No rise!”
What hissing, yelling, howling, groaning!
What barking, braying, hooting, moaning!
The people bellow’d, shouted, storm’d,
The actors in dumb show perform’d.
Those in the pit stood up with rage,
And turn’d their backs upon the stage.
Yes, my dear friend, their backs they turn’d,
And thus were the performers spurn’d.
The tragedy thus tragediz’d,
Brunton came forward, as surmis’d,
T’ announce for the next night the play;
But still they bark, and yell, and bray.
I heard him not, and all could see,
Was his lips move, then exit he.
The Quaker was the farce, they say;
I thought it was the Devil to pay
In short, it went on like the play.
I’m certain that the quaker quaked.
Each head too with the tumult ach’d.
About ELEVEN, or before,
The stage amusements all were o’er
But not until the clock struck one
Were those before the curtain done;
The cry of “Managers!” went round;
From all parts did the cry resound.
The eager, the impetuous crowd,
Then for old prices call’d aloud.
In vain they call’d — they brandish’d sticks,
The boards too trembled with their kicks;
When lo! upon the stage, indeed,
Two magistrates — yes, Nares and Read,
Made their appearance — ’tis a fact —
They came to read the Riot Act,
But all these worthies wish’d to say
Was treated like the farce and play —
“No magistrates! off! off! away!
Let Harris, if you please, appear,
Or send John Philip Kemble here.”
They thought to make the gentry quiet,
To prove that words were acts of riot:
But ‘twould not do — “Off! off! enough!”
So exeunt Ambo in a huff.
And now the galleries began:
They curs’d the building and the plan.
They thought the managers unkind —
They were in pigeon-holes confin’d.
Pat cries — ” I will be squeez’d to death;
I will be kilt for want of breath.”
Those in the upper boxes now
Assisted in the general row,
And, ‘midst their fury and their heat,
They happen’d to break down a seat.
Impossible, in such a fray,
But that some benches must give way;
At this, however, much displeased,
The Bow-street runners came and seized
Two or three gentlemen — they swore —
They dragg’d them out — their coats they tore.
These men it seems, on this condition,
Had to all parts a free admission.
‘Twas to the managers’ disgrace.
An officer, in such a place,
Should, uninvited, show his face.
But to the rest — the bell was heard,
And engines* on the stage appear’d.
This gave the folk some discontent:
They thought that Mr. Kemble meant
To play upon them. This gave rise
To further hisses, groans, and cries.
Some in the pit now form’d a ring,
They danc’d, and sung God save the King;
And while performing these wild feats,
They play’d the devil with the seats.
No matter — they evinc’d their spite,
Then bade the managers good night;
And I the same must bid my friend —
But take my word—on this depend —
My pen I will resume again, –
Till when your servant I remain.

Strand, Jan. 1810. S.

* The introduction of the water-engines on the stage was, it is asserted, through a mistake. Engines are kept in the theatre, and placed on the stage after the evening’s performances, in case of danger, particularly as the fire offices have refused to insure the house to the full amount. Mr. Kemble perceiving from his private box that the audience were not gone, ordered the bell to be rung for the stage lights to be replaced. This order was misunderstood by the prompter, and instead of the lights the engines were brought upon the stage. Certainly they might have been designedly brought on to intimidate the malcontents, but without the manager’s knowledge.

Comments: Thomas Tegg (1776–1845) was an English bookseller, publisher and author. His long poem ‘The O.P. War’ documents, through a series of ‘letters’ the turmoil that followed the decision made by Covent Garden Theatre to raise ticket prices to help cover the cost of the rebuilding of the theatre after the fire of 20 September 1808. At the re-opening of what was named New Covent Garden Theatre on 18 September 1809, and for three months thereafter, there were vehement protests inside the theatre from audience members against the price rises, dubbed the Old Price, or O.P., Riots. The actor-manager John Philip Kemble was eventually forced to lower the prices. Tegg’s poem documents the events in some detail across eighteen letters, with annotations as above. Letter I covers the day of the re-opening. The Riot Act was indeed read from the stage during the evening. The production of Macbeth included John Philip Kemble as Macbeth, his sister Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth and their brother Charles Kemble as Macduff, though such was the noise throughout (and for the afterpiece The Quaker) that the performances were rendered inaudible.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

A Persian at the Court of King George

Source: Mirza Abul Hassan Khan (ed./trans. Margaret Morris Cloake), A Persian at the Court of King George: The Journal of Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, 1809-10 (London : Barrie & Jenkins, 1988), p. 92

Production: William Shakespeare (adapted by Nahum Tate), King Lear and Harlequin Pedlar; or, The Haunted Well, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 12 January 1810

Text: Friday, 12 January [1810]

When my friends gathered at the house, Sir Gore Ouseley told me that tonight they planned to take me to a theatre called Covent Garden. Some time ago the theatre was destroyed by fire; it has been rebuilt with the help of a donation of 200,000 tomans from the King.

And so we went there. On either side of the lofty stage there are galleries with painted ceilings. Although somewhat smaller than the Opera, the decoration is more elaborate. Musicians banished sorrow from our hearts with their songs. It seemed to me strange that the audience reacted to some of the tunes with such boisterous applause that it could be heard by the Cherubim in heaven, but to others they appeared totally deaf.

The manager of the theatre, Mr Kemble, acted the part of a King of Britain Who divides his kingdom between two of his daughters, leaving the third without a share. In the end, however, the first two daughters show themselves ungrateful to their father, and the disinherited but dutiful daughter escapes from the bondage of her wicked sisters with the help of a general’s son – a marquis – who is in love with her. When she succeeds to the throne, she accepts him as her husband.

Next, several multi-coloured curtains were lowered, and from behind these curtains – in the manner of Iranian acrobats – appeared the fantastic figures of divs and peris, of birds and beasts. No one watching their antics could possibly have retained his composure. Grimaldi, a famous clown, performed an act which I shall never forget: he would leap from a high Window and just as easily leap back up again, returning each time as a different character and causing the noble audience to laugh uncontrollably.

Walking around the theatre, my companions and I saw beautiful ladies, beautifully dressed, casting flirtatious glances from their boxes. Then We left the theatre by the King’s door and came home.

Comments: Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, or Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi (1776-1845) was an Iranian ambassador who headed a diplomatic mission to Great Britain in 1809-1810. The version of King Lear that he saw, with John Philip Kemble playing Lear, was the adaptation by Nahum Tate with happy ending. The concluding harlequinade was Harlequin Pedlar; or, The Haunted Well, featuring the highly popular comic performer Joseph Grimaldi.

Mrs. Siddons

Source: William Hazlitt, ‘Mrs. Siddons’, Examiner, 16 June 1816, reproduced in A View of the English Stage, or, A Series of Dramatic Criticisms (London: Robert Stodart, 1818), pp. 103-106

Production: William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Covent Garden, London, 14 June 1816

Text: Players should be immortal, if their own wishes or ours could make them so; but they are not. They not only die like other people, but like other people they cease to be young, and are no longer themselves, even while living. Their health, strength, beauty, voice, fails them; nor can they, without these advantages, perform the same feats, or command the same applause that they did when possessed of them. It is the common lot: players are only not exempt from it. Mrs. Siddons retired once from the stage: why should she return to it again? She cannot retire from it twice with dignity; and yet it is to be wished that she should do all things with dignity. Any loss of reputation to her, is a loss to the world. Has she not had enough of glory? The homage she has received is greater than that which is paid to queens. The enthusiasm she excited had something idolatrous about it; she was regarded less with admiration than with wonder, as if a being of a superior order had dropped from another sphere, to awe the world with the majesty of her appearance. She raised tragedy to the skies, or brought it down from thence. It was something above nature. We can conceive of nothing grander. She embodied to our imagination the fables of mythology, of the heroic and deified mortals of elder time. She was not less than a goddess, or than a prophetess inspired by the gods. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine. She was Tragedy personified. She was the stateliest ornament of the public mind. She was not only the idol of the people, she not only hushed the tumultuous shouts of the pit in breathless expectation, and quenched the blaze of surrounding beauty in silent tears, but to the retired and lonely student, through long years of solitude, her face has shone as if an eye had appeared from heaven; her name has been as if a voice had opened the chambers of the human heart, or as if a trumpet had awakened the sleeping and the dead. To have seen Mrs. Siddons was an event in everyone’s life; and does she think we have forgot her? Or would she remind us of herself by showing us what she was not? Or is she to continue on the stage to the very last, till all her grace and all her grandeur gone, shall leave behind them only a melancholy blank? Or is she merely to be played off as “the baby of a girl” for a few nights?—” Rather than so,” come, Genius of Gil Bias, thou that didst inspire him in an evil hour to perform his promise to the Archbishop of Grenada, “and champion us to the utterance” of what we think on this occasion.

It is said that the Princess Charlotte has expressed a desire to see Mrs. Siddons in her best parts, and this, it is said, is a thing highly desirable. We do not know that the Princess has expressed any such wish, and we shall suppose that she has not, because we do not think it altogether a reasonable one. If the Princess Charlotte had expressed a wish to see Mr. Garrick, this would have been a thing highly desirable, but it would have been impossible; or if she had desired to see Mrs. Siddons in her best days, it would have been equally so; and yet, without this, we do not think it desirable that she should see her at all. It is said to be desirable that a princess should have a taste for the Fine Arts, and that this is best promoted by seeing the highest models of perfection. But it is of the first importance for princes to acquire a taste for what is reasonable and the second thing which it is desirable they should acquire is a deference to public opinion: and we think neither of these objects likely to be promoted in the way proposed. If it was reasonable that Mrs. Siddons should retire from the stage three years ago, certainly those reasons have not diminished since, nor do we think Mrs. Siddons would consult what is due to her powers or her fame, in commencing a new career. If it is only intended that she should act a few nights in the presence of a particular person, this might be done as well in private. To all other applications she should answer, “Leave me to my repose.”

Mrs. Siddons always spoke as slow as she ought: she now speaks slower than she did. “The line, too, labours, and the words move slow.” The machinery of the voice seems too ponderous for the power that wields it. There is too long a pause between each sentence, and between each word in each sentence. There is too much preparation. The stage waits for her. In the sleeping scene, she produced a different impression from what we expected. It was more laboured and less natural. In coming on formerly, her eyes were open, but the sense was shut. She was like a person bewildered, and unconscious of what she did. She moved her lips involuntarily; all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical. At present she acts the part more with a view to effect. She repeats the action when she says, “I tell you he cannot rise from his grave,” with both hands sawing the air in the style of parliamentary oratory, the worst of all others. There was none of this weight or energy in the way she did the scene the first time we saw her, twenty years ago. She glided on and off the stage almost like an apparition. In the close of the banquet scene, Mrs. Siddons condescended to an imitation which we were sorry for. She said, “Go, go,” in the hurried familiar tone of common life, in the manner of Mr. Kean, and without any of that sustained and graceful spirit of conciliation towards her guests, which used to characterise her mode of doing it. Lastly, if Mrs. Siddons has to leave the stage again, Mr. Horace Twiss will write another farewell address for her; if she continues on it, we shall have to criticise her performances. We know which of these two evils we shall think the greatest.

Too much praise cannot be given to Mr. Kemble’s performance of Macbeth. He was “himself again,” and more than himself. His action was decided, his voice audible. His tones had occasionally indeed a learned quaintness, like the colouring of Poussin; but the effect of the whole was fine. His action in delivering the speech, “To-morrow and to-morrow,” was particularly striking and expressive, as if he had stumbled by an accident on fate, and was baffled by the impenetrable obscurity of the future. In that prodigious prosing paper, the Times, which seems to be written as well as printed by a steam-engine, Mr. Kemble is compared to the ruin of a magnificent temple, in which the divinity still resides. This is not the case. The temple is unimpaired; but the divinity is sometimes from home.

Comments: William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was an English essayist, journalist and literary critic. Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) had retired from the stage in 1812, but made some special apperances thereafter to 1819, including playing Lady Macbeth opposite her brother John Philip Kemble at Covent Garden.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Queen Victoria’s Journals

Playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, 30 December 1833, from The Theatrical Observer

Playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, 30 December 1833, from The Theatrical Observer

Source: Alexandrina Victoria, journal entry for 30 December 1833

Productions: Daniel Auber, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and Charles Farley, Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog; or Harlequin and Tales of the Nursery, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 30 December 1833

Text: At a ¼ past 8 we went with Lehzen, Lady Conroy, and Sir John to the play to Convent Garden. We came in for the last scene of Gustavus, the Masqued Ball, and stayed the whole of the pantomine, which is called “Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog; or Harlequin and Tales of the Nursery”. The scenery was very pretty and the principal characters were; Venus, Miss Lee; Cupid, Miss Poole, who appeared in three other dresses: as a peasant boy, as a drummer, and as Mother Hubbard, and she looked very pretty and acted very well indeed. Old Mother Hubbard, Mr. Wieland; Schock (her dog), Master W. Mitchinson. The Duchess Griffinwinkle Blowsabella (afterwards Pantaloon), Mr. Barnes. King Rundytundy O, (afterwards Dandy Lover), Mr. W.H. Payne. The Princes Graciosa (afterwards Columbine), a very pretty person, Miss Foster. Prince Percineth (afterwards Harlequin), Mr. Ellar. Head Cook (afterwards Clown), Mr. T. Matthews. The panorama at the end was also pretty. We came home at a ¼ past 12. I was very much amused.

Comments: Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), later just Victoria, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to her death, and additionally titled Empress of India from 1876. She kept up a journal from 1832 until almost the end of her life. The journal records many visits to the theatre, particularly in her younger days. On this visit to Covent Garden she saw the last scene of Daniel Auber‘s recently written grand opera Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog, a pantomime composed and engineered by Charles Farley.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

Queen Victoria’s Journals

muchado1836

Source: Alexandrina Victoria, journal entry for 23 December 1836

Production: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Covent Garden, London, 23 December 1836

Text: At ½ p.6 we went with my beloved Lehzen, Lady and the Miss Conroys, &c., to Covent Garden to the play. It was Shakespeare’s 5 act Comedy of “Much ado about nothing”, for Charles Kemble’s farewell benefit. The House was crammed. We came in just after Kemble had appeared. He never played better. He sustained the character of Benedick, and acted with so much playfulness, grace and lightness,that it made one still more sorry to think that he was never more to tread those boards and delight his audience. The principal other characters were Beatrice – Miss H. Faucit, who is neither a good nor a bad actress. Don Pedro – Mr. Bennett, as affected as ever. Claudio – Mr. Pritchard, a dreadful man. Leonato – Mr.Thompson. Hero – Miss Vincent. Dogberry – Mr. W. Farren, who was delightful; he is a most excellent comic actor. When the play was over, the curtain rose and discovered the whole acting company on the stage. Kemble came on and made a short and pretty speech which was much interrupted by the tremendous and well deserved applause he received from the audience, handkerchiefs and hats waving, and by his own feelings. Poor Kemble, he was quite overcome, his eyes filled with tears and his voice trembling and faltering. I subjoin an account from the newspapers (today’s Morning Chronicle) which will serve to describe the whole better than I can. Poor Kemble, the last of the Kembles, it is a sad thing to think we shall behold him no more who was one of the stage’s brightest ornaments. The name of Kemble will ever be remembered with feelings of delight and admiration. A Farewell of this kind is very touching. I saw Young take his leave about 4 years and a half ago. What an actor he was! oh, beautiful! Mrs. Butler, better known as Fanny Kemble, and who is lately arrived from America, was in a box with her sister Miss Adelaide Kemble; she seemed much affected when she beheld him say his last “Farewell”. What a loss she is to the stage; she was a charming actress. We came home at ½ p.10.

Comments: Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), later just Victoria, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to her death, and additionally titled Empress of India from 1876. She kept up a journal from 1832 until almost the end of her life. The journal records many visits to the theatre, particularly in her younger days. This entry on seeing William Shakespeare‘s Much Ado about Nothing at the Covent Garden Theatre was made six months before she was crowned. Charles Kemble retired from the stage with this performance, but later gave Shakespeare readings, including readings at Buckingham Palace for the Queen. The other actors named here were George Bennett, William Farren, Helen Faucit, John Pritchard, Thompson, Vincent. Young was Charles Mayne Young, who retired from the stage in 1832.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

Covent-Garden Theatre

Source: Anon., ‘Covent-Garden Theatre’, The Morning Post, 6 October 1829, p. 3

Production: William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Covent Garden, London, 5 October 1829

Text: The name of KEMBLE was exercised with magic-like effect at this Theatre last night. Plunged into difficulties, almost overwhelming, Mr. CHARLES KEMBLE exerted his best strength and influence: his wife returned to the stage, his daughter made her debut, and a brilliant and overflowing audience was the consequence. This was precisely as every friend of the Drama must have wished. the name of a family which has for half a century contributed so largely, and with so much distinction and honour, to the most rational  and intellectual of our amusements, ought not to be used in vain, or to be heard without cheering and liberal encouragement. On this occasion it met with enthusiastic support, and those who anticipated a display of hereditary genius were happily confirmed in their kindly hopes. That the difficulties of the Theatre have been most alarming there can be no question; but however desperate they may have been in their character, or however distressing to the Managers, we can hardly help rejoicing in their occurrence, since thy have been the immediate cause of giving to the stage another KEMBLE, and one too who promises to enhance rather than to depreciate the unrivalled reputation of her family. With the debut of Miss FANNY KEMBLE too, we are inclined to date the disappearance of the distresses of the Theatre, and therefore we shall make no further mention of them, but content ourselves with expressing a hope that the young Lady’s introduction to the stage will only be one of many acts of good judgment on the part of the Manager.

Before the commencement of the play, “God save the King” was sung by the Company, which mustered unusually strong, the different solos being given by Miss HUGHES, Mr. WOOD (who acquitted himself remarkably well), and Mr. HORNE, who appears to have returned to this Theatre. The national song was warmly encored, and the Theatre looked extremely handsome while it was singing: the whole of the audience were standing, the private boxes were full, and the dress and first circle of boxes were adorned by a great number of Ladies. As for the rest of the House, it was crowded to excess. The play was Romeo and Juliet, Miss KEMBLE of course being Juliet. In stature she is like her mother, being rather under than over the middle size; but she may not yet have completed her growth, being, as we are informed, and as she really appears, not more than eighteen. Her form, however, is rich in beauties. The contour of her throat, neck, and head, reminded us forcibly of Mrs. SIDDONS; and her arms have that roundness and capability of majestic action in which her aunt was so entirely unrivalled, In her countenance Miss KEMBLE partakes more of the beauties of Mrs. SIDDONS, and the expression of JOHN KEMBLE, than she does of the features of her father and mother. Her brow is like that of all the KEMBLES – lofty and full of deep expression; her eye is finely placed, dark and powerful; her nose is sufficiently prominent to give a good profile, and to ad to the effect of the other features; and her mouth has much of the character of that of her great predecessor, Mrs. SIDDONS, being capable of expressing tenderness, scorn, and triumph, in all their depth, bitterness, and lofty joy. The general character of her face is dignity; it is plainly and beautifully traced, although she has hardly yet attained the state of womanhood. Her voice is equal to every demand that even Tragedy can make. It is powerful, rich, and has great variety. It has none of the poverty of her uncle’s in particular passages, and little of the monotony of her aunt’s in level speaking. It often resembles her mother’s in sweetness, and is capable of declamation without any of the evidently acquired facility of her father’s. In the peculiar expression, however, for which each of her distinguished relatives have been celebrated, they are likely still to stand unrivalled. Without challenging the triumphant declamation and the agonizing bursts of Mrs. SIDDONS, Miss KEMBLE has an ample field before her, wherein she may gather

“Golden opinions of all sorts of men.”

On her entrance Miss KEMBLE was most enthusiastically welcomed: the pit rose in a body, and the cheers from the boxes were loud and long continued. She appeared to be greatly embarrassed, and did not recover her self-possession during her first scene. In her next scene, the masquerade, she made a certainty of success; the only difficulty was to predict the degree she would attain. There was in the delivery of the passage –

My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!”

a sensibility and a depth of feeling which gave an unquestionable indication of the possession of fine powers. Her exit too was marked by a melancholy but soul-searching passion, which admirably prepared for the succeeding scene. It was in this scene that her conception and her capabilities were at once developed. The garden scene is in itself a thing of beauties, and many of the passages received ample justice at her hands. the soliloquies appeared to flow from a heart wrapped up in a new and all-absorbing passion, and which, during the absence of the object it idolised, existed but in thinking of it. Nor did she deliver the passages addressed to Romeo with less felicity. They were full of fervour, and the passion was unrestrained, but it was pure, and natural from its purity.

“But farewell compliment!
Dost thou love me?”

was most beautifully given. The full effect was produced without violence of any description. The heart seemed to prompt the tongue, and nature to lend every grace to give the interrogatory force. Again, in the latter part of the scene, she characterised her love with admirable emphasis and expression. Her delivery was fully equal to the comprehensive words which SHAKESPEARE has assigned to Juliet :-

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have; for both are infinite.”

In her tone and manner there was something which bespoke the capability of Juliet, though yet a girl, undertaking the dangerous and appalling course she subsequently pursues. In her next scene, the scene in which the Nurse brings tidings from Romeo, there was a great deal of sweetness, but nothing calling for particular remark, unless perhaps we except the lines –

“Had she affections, and warm youthful blood,
She’d be as swift in motion as a ball;
My words would bandy her to my sweet love,
And his to me.”

In delivering these her action was peculiarly appropriate and original. In the next scene, however, she made “a giant’s step” in reputation. She rushed into the depths of tragedy, and although there was a great poverty or rather total want of action while she delivered the lines –

O, break, my heart! poor bankrupt, break at once!
To prison, eyes, ne’er look on liberty!
Vile earth, to earth resign; end, motion, here;
And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!

the defect was more than compensated for by the agonizing burst with which she exclaimed –

“Banished! is Romeo banished?”

It was entirely in the manner of SIDDONS, as was the passage commencing-

“Blistered be thy tongue” &c.

In the next scene she achieved another triumph, and perhaps the greatest of the evening. After having in vain implored her parents to postpone her marriage with Paris, Juliet has recourse to the Nurse for advice:-

JULIET: O. Nurse, how shall this be prevented?
NURSE: – Faith, here it is,
Romeo is banished: all the world to nothing
That he dares ne’er come back to challenge you;
Or, if he do, it needs must be by stealth;
Then, since the case so stands, I think it best
You married with the Count.
JULIET. Speak’st thou from they heart?
NURSE. From my soul, too;
Or else beshrew them both.
JULIET. Amen!
NURSE. What? what?
JULIET. Well, thou has comforted me marvellous much.

The effect of these passages was splendid in the extreme. the dignity of the wife was suddenly called into action, and it was commanding as it was pure and lovely in its nature. The Theatre rang with applauses. The arduous soliloquy in the next scene she finished by one of the most perfect and beautiful attitudes we have seen for a long time. The last scene was unfortunately the least successful of the whole; she was badly dressed and badly painted, and the Romeo on the night was not of the slightest assistance to her. But Miss KEMBLE had been the admiration of the audience long before the close of the play; and looking at her performance, we should most decidedly give it the preference to every debut made since that of Miss O’NEILL. To say that it was destitute of fault would be as absurd as to say that it not did display a conception of the highest order, and much execution of a similar character. Having said thus much, we shall be content to await her next performance without more remark, when me may find time and opportunity to return to the subject.

Mr. C. KEMBLE sustained the part of Mercutio for the first time. On his entrance the applause was enthusiastic, and he acknowledged the compliment with great grace and feeling. Of his acting we have only space sufficient to say that his readings were perfect, if he was  not quite so airy as LEWIS, or quite so humorous as ELLISTON was wont to be. His death was managed very beautifully, and with much originality. The kindness with which he took leave of Romeo was excellently conceived and executed. As the peculiarity of the circumstances has induced him to resign Romeo, we are happy to see him in possession of Mercutio; on no other occasion, however, could we consent to his quitting the lover. Of Mr. ABBOTT we need say but little. He is precisely the same as he was before he went to France, and therefore a very moderate Romeo. He is destitute of tenderness. Mrs C. KEMBLE trod the stage and acted with so much excellent sense and spirit as Lady Capulet, that we could  hardly believe she had ever been absent from it, and heartily wished for her permanent return to it. Mrs. DAVENPORT as the Nurse was a delightful as ever. It was a piece of acting in itself worth a journey to witness. She was most cordially received. The other parts were sustained as usual; and at the fall of the curtain the applause was unanimous and most hearty. Mr. KEMBLE came forward and addressed the audience in the following words:- “Ladies and Gentlemen, from the kind indulgence with which you have been pleased to receive the first efforts of my daughter on any stage, I am induced to announce this tragedy for repetition on Wednesday, Friday, and Monday next.”

This announcement was received with great approbation, and the entertainments concluded with The Miller and his Men.

Comments: The review is of a production of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet, at Covent Garden, London, 5 October 1829. Fanny Kemble (1809-1893) was the daughter of the actor Charles Kemble and niece of his sister, the actress Sarah Siddons. The financial fortunes of the ailing Covent Garden (in which Charles Kemble was a shareholder) were greatly improved following the great success of Fanny Kemble in Romeo and Juliet, and the production was a further success touring North America. The remaining lead performers named in this review were Theresa Kemble (Mrs Charles Kemble), William  Abbott, and Mrs Davenport (Fanny Vining), while other actors mentioned are Eliza O’Neill, Robert Elliston and William Lewis. The Miller and his Men was a two-act romantic melodrama by Isaac Pocock.

Links: British Newspaper Archive (£)

The Journal of Sir Walter Scott

Source: Walter Scott, The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 1825-1832 (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1910 [orig. pub. 1890]), vol. 2, p. 335

Production: David Garrick/Thomas Southerne, Isabella, or The Fatal Marriage, Covent Garden, London, 16 June 1830

Text: June 17. – Went last night to theatre, and saw Miss Fanny Kemble’s Isabella, which was a most creditable performance. It has much of the genius of Mrs. Siddons, her aunt. She wants her beautiful countenance, her fine form, and her matchless dignity of step and manner. On the other hand, Miss Fanny Kemble has very expressive, though not regular, features, and what is worth it all, great energy mingled with and chastened by correct taste. I suffered by the heat, lights, and exertion, and will not go back to-night, for it has purchased me a sore headache this theatrical excursion. Besides, the play is Mrs. Beverley, and I hate to be made miserable about domestic distress, so I keep my gracious presence at home to-night, though Ive and respect Miss Kemble for giving her active support to her father in his need, and preventing Covent Garden from coming down about their ears.

Comments: Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a Scottish novelist and poet, whose historical novels such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and The Heart of Midlothian were immensely popular and influential. The Fatal Marriage was a 1694 play by Thomas Southerne, which David Garrick adapted in 1757 as Isabella; or the Fatal Marriage. Fanny Kemble played Isabella in a production at Covent Garden. ‘Mrs. Beverley’ is a character in Edward Moore‘s popular 1753 play The Gamester.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg