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Bratton, Jacky. 'Introduction to Whackham and Windham; or, the Wrangling Lawyers.' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 15 January 2000. 3 pars. <http://www.etang.umontreal.ca/bwp1800/essays/bratton_whackham_intro.html>


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1.

The Sans Pareil, later to become the Adelphi, a theatre built by John Scott next door to his water-colour-preparer's shop in the Strand, in London's nascent West End, was refitted and its interior enlarged before the 1814-15 season. It now seated 800 in the pit, and had a stage 40 feet wide by 50-60 feet deep. Its inspiration and indeed raison d'etre, its manager and leading performer and writer, was Scott's daughter, always known simply as 'Miss Scott'. In the 1814 season her best-known comedy Whackham (or Whackam, or Whackem—spellings vary, but the pronunciation is clear) and Windham; or, the Wrangling Lawyers was first produced. Bills stress that it is an original piece, not derived from the French. Reviewers approved the play, both for its writing and the opportunities it gave for the specialist performers in the company to entertain in their own ways. The Theatrical Inquisitor opined that the comedy "does infinite credit to the literary talents, and scenic skill, of its fair writer, Miss Scott, and we augur that had it been acted at either of the winter theatres, it would have placed her in the first class of our modern dramatic authors" (128). The diarist Henry Crabb Robinson saw it on 20 February 1815 and approved of Meredith's broad comic acting as Thomas the servant and Andrew Campbell's imitations, which within the play are of a Jewish old clothes salesman/clandestine gold dealer and an 'artist', and extended beyond the dramatic frame to impersonations of leading actors—Kemble, Cook, Johnstone, Elliston, Farley, Emery, Munden and Kean. This rich intertheatrical mix also surfaces in the text with references to the setting of the play/theatre in the Strand, and the comic dramatisation of the Scott family circle, which is pointed out on the bills.

2. The text given here is only the accidentally-surviving shadow of the theatrical event: it is taken from the copy made for the purposes of obtaining a licence for performance from the censor's office under the Lord Chamberlain. As such it does no more than sketchily represent the play as performed. This is of course true of all play texts, but it is especially and acutely the case with works like this, whose life was intimately embedded in the situation of their writing and performance, and whose appearance in manuscript was no more than a gesture towards legal requirements. This text was never intended as even a blueprint for the real thing; its purpose was only to reassure the authorities that nothing seditious was intended. What actually happened at the Sans Pareil, with the collaborating cast of performers and the regular, knowing, participatory audience who approved of the play, can only be grasped by regarding the ensuing text as a set of clues, whose life is to be found or recreated on the stage.
3.

The transcription expands speech ascriptions to a full name and places them on a separate line. Otherwise it is intended to be free of intervention.

 

Jacky Bratton, Royal Holloway
University of London

Jacky Bratton is Professor of Theatre and Cultural History at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her current projects are a CD-Rom about the performance history of King Lear, with Dr Christie Carson, and a revisionist historiography of the nineteenth-century British stage (both for Cambridge University Press).

 

Works Cited

[Anon.]. Theatrical Inquisitor (February 1814) 128.