From 1841 onwards, the Wigan Theatre had experienced a mild form of competition from another hotel, only a couple of hundred yards away, when occasional circus and dramatic entertainments were given in a room behind the Ship Hotel in Millgate. In 1849 this accommodation underwent much improvement and was opened as the Royal Adelphi Theatre.
The management of the new Theatre was entrusted to a Miss Anna Newby, who also managed the Royal Adelphi in Liverpool. Miss Newby was one of the early actor managers, following in the footsteps of Madam Vestris (perhaps the first and most famous of the woman actor managers) took over the lease of the Lyceum Theatre in London where she remained for seven years; she made her last appearance there in Sunshine in the Clouds. The system of actor manager survived well into the 20th century, one of the last being Mr Richard Todd.
Miss Newby was a popular actress and played many parts at the Wigan Royal Adelphi with Mr F. B. Egan, who was the leading actor at this Theatre. The entertainment presented at the Adelphi was received enthusiastically by the audiences they attracted and according to an unidentified local writer of the time:- A more respectable company has never visited Wigan. The histrionic talent they possess is of no mean order and is exercised in such a degree of perfection that we anticipate for them a season of great success. Among the dramas to be performed by this company at the Royal Adelphi are, The Hunchback, Green Bushes, and Black Eyed Susan.
Playbills of the time illustrate the custom of the Theatre of the mid nineteenth century of ending the evenings entertainment with a farcical comedy; perhaps the idea was to send the customers home in high spirits. Two of the farces which seem to have been popular with Wigan audiences at the time were The Dancing Barber and Mr and Mrs White. Prior to the opening of the Royal Adelphi Theatre it was advertised that, the interior has been beautifully decorated and re-appointed throughout; the dome being enclosed by a splendid Grecian canopy; the front of the boxes and gallery ornamented with rich devices and ornamental scroll work; the stage department has been supplied with new and excellent scenery and an elaborately painted act-drop presenting a most faithful representation of the bay and city of Naples.
The Theatre management of the Adelphi either deliberately misled the public, or the fabric quickly fell into disrepair because in the Wigan Times of October 1850 an anonymous correspondent who called himself one who loves a good play was prompted to write:- The other night I strolled into that comfortless mistermed Theatre to witness the performance of The Lady of Lyons, one of Bulwer Lyttons best plays, a play that cannot fail to please no matter how poorly it may be enacted. The performance was stated to be under the patronage of the Mayor, but he was not present and I must say he did well to keep away from a place so unsuited to his position and comfort, for it was the most desolate appropriation for the performance of the legitimate drama I have ever witnessed and certainly a disgrace to a town of such respectability as Wigan.
The anonymous correspondent goes on to say that "the Act Drop scene was made of red calico put together by an unskilled tailor. He describes the fine dome thus, the roof of the place was as rough as the top of a clumsily built Irish cabin, and the rain found its way through the crevices of the boards with a profusion that made it anything but comfortable. Mr Anonymous Gentleman continues along these lines at great length, and the reader is left in no doubt at all that he was dissatisfied, not only with the fabric of the Adelphi, but also the company it housed.
The accuracy of his comment is supported by the fact that the Theatre closed shortly afterwards, never to reopen. The Ship Hotel however was refaced in 1890 and remained popular with the public for a further hundred years. No vestige of the Adelphi remained during this time other than the very large yard on which it stood behind the public house.
Today in 2012 only the façade remains , the area between what was once the Eagle & Child / Royal Hotel and the Ship Hotel, is now a shopping centre.
This article on the Royal Adelphi Theatre was first written in 1974 by George Richmond and has now been updated by him in 2012 and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site. The article is © copyright George Richmond 1974 - 2012.
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