Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Adelphi Screamers

On this All Hallow's Eve, I wanted to write about a theatre that has been home to some of the spookiest dramas of all time, London's Adelphi Theatre, formerly known as the Sans Pareil.

Founded in 1806, the Sans Pareil was located on the Strand, which runs from Trafalgar Square down toward Temple Bar. Near Adam Street, prospective playgoers would see a theatre front that looked like this:

Technically the theatre was founded by John Scott, but it was really run by his daughter Jane, actress, producer, director, and author of such melodramas as Asgard the Demon HunterThe Old Oak Chest, and Camilla the Amazon. The stage looked something like this:

Scott retired from the theatre after getting married in 1819, and that's when the Sans Pareil changed its name to the Adelphi under new management. The theatre frequently performed adaptations of the works of Charles Dickens. These included an adaptation John Baldwin Buckstone did of Dickens's early sketch "The Bloomsbury Christening." Buckstone would later adapt Dickens's goblin story The Chimes for the theatre.

It was stories of goblins, ghosts, and sensational crimes that got the theatre's plays nicknamed "Adelphi Screamers." This was true even after the building was demolished and rebuilt in 1858. The rebuilt theatre became a home to hits by Dion Boucicault, including The Colleen Bawn and later The Octoroon. In 1862, Boucicault adapted Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth under the title Dot, winning another huge success for the Adelphi.

Today, the theatre is home to big-budget musicals, most recently Back to the Future. It seems the Adelphi's role as a temple of popular culture continues even today.