Friday, 25 November 2016
JANE AUSTEN GOES TO THE THEATRE - WITHOUT MUCH SATISFACTION!
Quite apart from her family's amateur dramatics at Steventon, Jane was interested in the theatre. She must have witnessed good productions (especially in Bath) though there is little evidence in the surviving letters. She thought little of Southampton's offerings: Martha ought to see the inside of the Theatre once while she lives in Southampton, & I think she will hardly wish to take a second veiw (Letter 61). In September 1813, Jane reported on some London pantomime-style productions at the Lyceum which seem to have been more enjoyed by her nieces than herself. They revelled last night in Don Juan, whom we left in Hell at ½ past 11. – We had Scaramouch & a Ghost – and were delighted; – I speak of them; my delight was very tranquil, & the rest of us were sober-minded. Don Juan was the last of 3 musical things (Letter 87). Next day they had a good box at Covent Garden for the double-bill of The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman and Midas: An English Burletta by Kane O'Hara. Although The girls were very much delighted, there was no acting more than moderate (Letter 87). Expanding on this in a letter to her brother Frank a week later, she said the performances were mainly Sing-song & trumpery ... I wanted better acting. – There was no Actor worthy naming. – I beleive the Theatres are thought at a low ebb at present (Letter 90).
Jane attended more London entertainments in 1814, but was rarely impressed. It was difficult to obtain tickets to see Edmund Keane, the new acting sensation. She reported, so great is the rage for seeing Keen that only a 3d & 4th row could be got. As it is in a front box, however, I hope we shall do pretty well. – Shylock. – A good play for Fanny (Letter 97). After the performance, she reported: We were quite satisfied with Kean. I cannot imagine better acting, but the part was too short, & excepting him & Miss Smith, & she did not quite answer my expectation, the parts were ill filled & the Play heavy ... it appeared to me as if there were no fault in him anywhere; & in his scene with Tubal there was exquisite acting (Letter 98). Jane and her party left before the end of Illusion, or the Trances of Nourjahad, the melodramatic spectacle that followed. After such entertainment, she regretted that more theatre tickets were being sought: I have had enough for the present (Letter 98). However, tickets were obtained for Charles Dibdin's The Farmer's Wife at Covent Garden. Jane reported: The Farmer's Wife is a musical thing in 3 Acts, & as Edward was steady in not staying for anything more, we were at home before 10 (Letter 99). Jane had reasonable pleasure in watching an adaptation of Molière: ... we went to the Lyceum, & saw the Hypocrite, an old play taken from Molière's Tartuffe, & were well entertained. Dowton & Mathews were the good actors. Mrs Edwin was the heroine – & her performance is just what it used to be. – I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons. – She did act on Monday, but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would, the places, and all thought of it, were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance, & could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me (Letter 71).
There was further disappointment in November 1814. Jane saw Garrick's play Isabella, or the Fatal Marriage: We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss O'neal in Isabella. I do not think she was quite equal to my expectation. I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either (Letter 112).