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  • Thomas King at Sadler's Wells and Drury Lane:How the Audience (Mis)Read Management
  • Evan Bridenstine (bio)

From the time David Garrick became co-proprietor and acting manager of Drury Lane in the 1747-1748 season to his retirement at the end of the 1775-1776 season, management at Drury Lane came to mean the presence of Garrick—both on and off the stage. Within that span of time, both Samuel Foote and George Colman had embodied a similar model at the Haymarket. However, the theatrical public had dealt directly with Garrick, and, thus, directly with management, for almost thirty years. Scholars writing on Garrick's career have noted the distinctive status granted to him by this long tenure. For example, in "David Garrick, Manager: Notes on the Theatre as a Cultural Institution in England in the Eighteenth Century," Dougald MacMillan describes Garrick's leading role within the management as that of "a public official": MacMillan credits Garrick's social position, his personal popularity as an actor, his frugality, and his "manager's sense" for his success in leading Drury Lane.1 With his portrayal of Garrick as the guardian of a social institution, MacMillan also assumes that the public equated Drury Lane with David Garrick, an equation referred to in the remainder of this paper as the "Garrick blend."

After Garrick's retirement, the model of active, visible management linked with ownership shifted to one of passive, perhaps even indifferent ownership separated from management under Richard Brinsley Sheridan, evidenced best by the swift succession of managers, including Sheridan himself, Thomas Sheridan (his father), Joseph Younger (a former manager of Covent Garden), Thomas King (leading comedian at Drury Lane after Garrick's retirement), and Thomas Linley Sr. (Sheridan's father-in-law). Having filled the post of manager for the 1782-1783 season and then [End Page 49] touring during the 1783-1784 season, King resumed the management the following year (1784-1785) and kept it until his swift resignation in September 1788 prepared the way for John Philip Kemble to assume authority. As can be seen in this brief summary, Drury Lane passed through a period of shifting identity without restoring the Garrick blend with a new management "face"; although members of Sheridan's family provided management for most of the seasons between Garrick and Kemble, only King's sustained (though relatively brief) tenure recreated anything similar to the Garrick blend.

King's managerial career ended with his position at Drury Lane, but his tenure there should be considered a final entry rather than an unusual event. King had served as part of the management of several theatres earlier in his career, and he had managed Sadler's Wells for just over a decade immediately prior to Drury Lane. To some extent, King had provided the entering management at Wells with its own "Garrick" blend, addressing the public both in the press and from the stage, so his selection as acting manager for Drury Lane allowed the public to reassert rather than redefine the blend. In fact, King's presence at the Wells had redefined management there.

By the time King purchased a controlling share in Sadler's Wells in 1772, that summer venue had come to be known for tumbling and rope dancing, but its offerings also included two major pantomimes each year. Direct competition for the Wells came in various forms: regular drama at the Haymarket and, for the initial and closing weeks of the summer season, Drury Lane and Covent Garden; public concerts at music gardens such as the Pantheon; masquerades held at private residences or hired halls; equestrian performances at Astley's Amphitheatre or Hughes's Riding School; displays of portraits or other novelties in museums such as Cox's or Lever's; and any number of public lectures or readings. When all of these venues were open to the public, the front pages of newspapers such as the Public Advertiser and the Morning Chronicle prioritized the Theatres Royal by placing their advertisements at the top of the first column, but the advertisements themselves, especially those for Sadler's Wells, appeared in a format similar to those used by the "major" houses, often listing...


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