Season of 1725-1726: An Epilogue

Although I mentioned the Little Theatre in the Haymarket in my first post on the 1725-1726 season and occasionally referred to it subsequently, I didn’t really include it in my survey of dancing in London’s theatres.

The Little Theatre was built late in 1720 on a site immediately beside where the Theatre Royal, Haymarket now stands. So far as we know, it was unlicensed, although this did not prevent it from offering short seasons of drama and other entertainments by foreign and amateur companies of players. In three of the five seasons between its opening and the 1725-1726 season, the Little Theatre provided a venue for companies of French comedians who offered an extensive repertoire of commedia dell’arte pieces alongside comedies by Molière and, in 1721-1722, tragedies by Corneille and Racine. In the first season of 1721-1722, the company included Francisque Moylin as Arlequin and Monsieur Roger as Pierrot. Roger returned to the Little Theatre for the 1724-1725 season and in 1725-1726 he joined the Drury Lane company as a dancer and choreographer. Dancing was offered each season at the Little Theatre, although the proportion of performances with entr’acte dancing ranged between 85% and only 24%. The concept of ‘entr’acte dancing’ does not really fit with the repertoire presented by these French companies, so the statistics may not be as significant as they appear.

Usually, the French companies appeared from December to March but in 1725-1726 they played only from March until May 1726. Their repertoire was entirely pieces from the commedia dell’arte, apart from Molière’s Le mariage forcé (which seems to have been a favourite with these troupes).  Sixteen of the twenty-three performances were billed with dancing and the bills name eleven dancers (7 men and 4 women). Among the men were Poitier and Lalauze, the former would become a leading dancer in London in the years to come. There is some doubt about the identity of the Lalauze who danced in London from the 1730s. Between them, these dancers gave thirteen entr’acte dances – 7 group dances, 1 trio, 3 duets and 2 solos. Choreographies for commedia dell’arte characters predominate, closely followed by those for other characters, not least Peasants. Among the other dances was Le Cotillon, given at Poitier’s benefit on 9 May 1726 by twelve dancers . He may well have been the choreographer.

The Little Theatre in the Haymarket in the early 1720s was the place where the Paris forains met London audiences and influenced London’s dancers and theatre managers. They, and their repertoire, await the detailed research that will uncover their place within the eco-system of the 18th-century London stage. These paintings by Watteau evoke their many-faceted performances.

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