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Competition and Community: Mary Tickell and the Management of Sheridan's Drury Lane

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 April 2013


Despite considerable advances in scholarship—achievements on which this essay builds—our knowledge of how eighteenth-century theatres were run remains worryingly thin. The managerial enterprise of theatre production, especially its daily practicalities, is largely obscure, though the facts of performance history are well documented. Knowledge of practice is not our only lacuna. Accounts of the interfaces among performances, institutional theatre practices, and the wider culture of the eighteenth century are too few, though wonderful work has been produced by Jane Moody, Felicity Nussbaum, and Gillian Russell, among others. This meager situation has arisen in part, as Robert D. Hume has argued, because scholars have yet to fully engage with those sources that have survived, although problems of missing evidence are serious and sometimes insurmountable. A related problem is that theatre historians are often averse to conceptualizing what they discover, as if analysis and certain modes of theoretical interpretation were the responsibility or more distinctly the failing of literary critics. But the discovery or reappraisal of an archive will only advance scholarship so far. New information about rehearsals, performances, finances, or contracts is vital, but it does not explain the motives or institutional momentum that animated theatre production. We need to know why some actors were favored by management while others seem to have been less well supported. It would also be useful to understand more precisely why some plays were performed repeatedly whereas others appeared only sporadically. The information contained in the London Stage should be crucial for theatre history, yet the repertoire of the patent theatres remains understudied. The impetus it gave to managers is too often ignored, while its political significance is barely understood, prompting justified complaint from Daniel O'Quinn. Great care will be necessary when addressing these issues. Overly general or prescriptive claims are probably best avoided; there are simply too many local factors. We should also recollect that theatrical production is necessarily a collective endeavor, a process in which many voices might be heard. Yet patterns and purposes can be found, even when what is most apparent is what Michel de Certeau terms the “‘polytheism’ of scattered practices.”

Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2013

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9. Tickell to Sheridan, “Sunday Morning” [8 October 1786], Y.d.35, ff. 253–4. Tickell wrote that the performance took in £300. The most reliable recent figure for a performance of Tancred and Sigismunda is £319 on 5 October 1786. See Hogan, Charles Beecher, ed., The London Stage, 1660–1800: A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments & Afterpieces, Part 5, 1776–1800, 3 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968), 2: 925Google Scholar.

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11. Tickell to Sheridan, “Wednesday” [5 May 1785], Y.d.35, f. 49.

12. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday Morning, N: Street” [25 October 1785], Y.d.35 ff. 170–1.

13. Tickell to Sheridan, “Monday” [mid-March 1784], Y.d.35, f. 47.

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19. See Tickell to Sheridan, “Wednesday” [early November, 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 189–93; Tickell to Sheridan, “Wednesday Norfolk Street” and “Friday Morning” [6 and 8 October 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 146, 148; and Tickell to Sheridan, “Monday the 23rd” [October 1786], Y.d.35, ff. 277–9.

20. Tickell to Sheridan, [late September 1786], Y.d.35, f. 243. Tickell's account of Sheridan's efforts can be contrasted with the account in Taylor, David Francis, Theatres of Opposition: Empire, Revolution, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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24. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday” [30 December 1783 or 6 January 1784], Y.d.35, f. 3. Underlines here and throughout are per the original.

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26. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday” [30 December 1783 or 6 January 1784], Y.d.35, ff. 3–4.

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30. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday” [30 December 1783 or 6 January 1784], f. 3; and Tickell to Sheridan, [after 7 January 1784], f. 7.

31. De Certeau, 29–30, 124–30. See also Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989)Google Scholar.

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35. See O'Brien, John, Harlequin Britain: Pantomime and Entertainment, 1690–1760 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Moody, Illegitimate Theatre.

36. Tickell to Sheridan, Y.d.35, ff. 5–7.

37. See Roach, 41, 123–31; and Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 436–7Google Scholar, 446.

38. Morning Post, 13 January 1784.

39. Tickell to Sheridan, [late January 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 15, 19; Tickell to Sheridan, [early February 1785], Y.d.35, f. 21.

40. Tickell to Sheridan, “Sunday Morning” [9 October 1785], Y.d.35, f. 152.

41. See London Chronicle, 8 October 1785; Morning Post, 10 October 1785; Morning Herald, 11 October 1785; and Public Advertiser, 11 October 1785.

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45. Tickell to Sheridan, “Sunday Morning” [mid-September 1785], Y.d.35, f. 133.

46. Tickell to Sheridan, “Friday Morning” [7 October 1785], Y.d.35, f. 148.

47. Tickell to Sheridan [early October 1785], Y.d.35, f. 158. The news of Siddons's “indisposition” and Abington's rival performances appear in Morning Chronicle, 10 October 1785; Morning Chronicle, 13 October 1785; and Public Advertiser, 13 October 1785.

48. Nussbaum, 44–9.

49. Tickell to Sheridan, “Sunday Morning” [20 November 1785], Y.d.35, f. 202. Siddons appeared in King John on 22 November 1785. Boaden notes the need to preserve Siddons's health but is more discrete as to the motive. See Boaden, 343–5.

50. The Way to Keep Him appeared on 26 November. Siddons succeeded in the role. See reviews in Public Advertiser, 28 November 1785; and Morning Chronicle, 28 November 1785.

51. Nussbaum, 231, 244–6.

52. Tickell to Sheridan, “Sunday Morning” [20 November 1785], Y.d.35, f. 202.

53. See Public Advertiser, 30 November 1785; Morning Chronicle, 30 November 1785; and Morning Chronicle, 28 November 1785.

54. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday” [27 December 1785], Y.d.35, f. 66.

55. Tickell to Sheridan, [late September 1785], Y.d.35, f. 134; Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday Morning, N: Street” [26 October 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 171–2; Tickell to Sheridan, “Sunday” [30 October 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 178–9.

56. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday the 3:d” [January 1786], Y.d.35, f. 225. Newspapers confirm that Drury Lane's program was changed “in consequence of poor King and his gout”; Morning Chronicle, 5 January 1786.

57. Tickell to Sheridan, “Jan:. the 4:th” [1786], Y.d.35, ff. 226–7.

58. Roach, 157.

59. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday Morning, N: Street” [25 October 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 170–1. Jordan appeared in The Country Girl on 18 October 1785. Tickell wrote after her second performance on 24 October.

60. Ibid., ff. 170–1. Jordan appeared in The Country Girl on 18 October 1785. Tickell wrote after her second performance on 24 October. See also Sheridan, Betsy Sheridan's Journal, 77–8.

61. Tickell to Sheridan [16 November 1785], Y.d.35, ff. 197–8; Tickell to Sheridan [30 November 1785], Y.d.35, f. 206; Tickell to Sheridan, “Friday Morning” [6 January 1785], Y.d.35, f. 230; Tickell to Sheridan, “Monday Morning” [21 November 1785], Y.d.35, f. 203. See also Tomalin, Claire, Mrs Jordan's Profession: The Story of a Great Actress and a Future King (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995)Google Scholar; and Perry, Gill, Spectacular Flirtations: Viewing the Actress in British Art and Theatre, 1768–1820 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)Google Scholar.

62. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday Morning” [late July 1785], Y.d.35, f. 104.

63. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday Morn” [25 October 1785], Y.d.35, f. 170; Tickell to Sheridan, “Wednesday” [26 October 1785], Y.d.35, f. 173.

64. Tickell to Sheridan [30 November 1785], Y.d.35, f. 206.

65. Tickell to Sheridan, “Wednesday” [28 December 1785], Y.d.35, f. 67.

66. Tickell to Sheridan, “Thursday” [5 January 1786], Y.d.35, f. 228.

67. Tickell to Sheridan, “Tuesday Morn” [16 January 1787], Y.d.35, f. 339.

68. De Certeau, 68–9, 80–91.

69. Tickell to Sheridan, “Wednesday Norfolk Street” [6 October 1785], Y.d.35 ff. 146, 148.

70. See Eger, Elizabeth, Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 60–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71. Geertz, 446.