Friday, April 12, 2013

Wroxton Theatricals 1816

Country house theatricals were an integral part of the entertainments undertaken for visitors to the great houses of Britain in the 19th century. Particularly a winter and/or Christmas activity, some houses were particularly known for their theatricals.

Such a house was Wroxton Abbey. Built in the 17th century on the remains of a 13th century priory, it was long the homes of the Lords North--later Earls of Guilford.
Wroxton Abbey in 1830 from
In the April 1816 issue of The European Magazine and London Review mention was made of the 'Wroxton Theatricals', as follows:

The Theatrical Entertainments at Wroxton Abbey, the Seat of the Earl of Guilford, having been very highly applauded, we have obtained one of the Play-bills, which we insert for the gratification of our readers.
The "Heir at Law," which was the play selected for the amusement of the social party in the house, and of a numerous and fashionable audience composed of the nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood, was performed in all its parts with uncommon force and effect. A Prologue written expressly for the occasion, by Mr. Colman, the author of the play, was admirably delivered by the Hon. Heneage Legge. The noble Earl himself, and his sister Lady Charlotte Lindsay, performed the characters of Lord and Lady Duberly with their accustomed excellence, and in the true spirit of comedy; Mr. John Dawkins, of established fame as a first rate Amateur Performer, was inimitable in the Pedant Tutor Doctor Pangloss; and Mr. Joseph Madocks and Miss Spencer, as Zekiel and Cicely Homespun sustained those interesting characters with genuine simplicity and warmth of feeling.
The after piece, judiciously pruned and cut down from one of Steele's plays, was also performed in a style rivalling the performance of the play.
Francis North, the 4th Earl of Guilford (born in 1761), died the year after these theatricals took place. He had been an officer in the British Army, but was also a playwright, his play "The Kentish Baron" having been successfully produced at the Haymarket Theatre. His sister, Lady Charlotte Lindsay (nee North) was in her mid-forties in 1816 and had been a Lady of the Bedchamber to Caroline, Princess of Wales. Heneage Legge was a son of the Earl of Dartmoor and was considerably younger than his hosts at twenty-eight. He was later a member of Parliament.

The Kembles mentioned--Mr. Kemble was present, although only Mrs. Kemble is listed on the play-bill--were probably Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kemble of the famous acting family. The rest of the cast has passed into obscurity but for Captain Raigersfeld who acted the part of John in "The Heir at Law". It would appear he is the same Captain Baron de Raigersfeld whose portrait hangs in the National Maritime Museum of Britain.
It must all have been great fun. I am writing a new book titled "The Possibility of Scandal", based in the provincial theatres of the Regency. So all things theatrical are of interest to me right now. The country house tradition of theatrical performance was one that lasted down to the early years of the 20th century. Those plays and performances must have given many a budding amateur thespian the thrill of a lifetime.

'Til next time,



Susanne Dietze said...

Great post! I look forward to your book!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks for visiting, Susanne! I think I'd better go and work on the book right now :)