British Delight: Serving the Audience
Investigating performance and play history at the mid-century reveals that in the wake of the Licensing Act, few of the plays performed were new plays. Various adaptations helped improve theatre attendance by conveying unconventionally appealing forms of drama that captured the public's interest.
Adaptation began in the 1660s with Sir William Davenant’s Shakespearean experiments (Dobson 45). The Axson Archive holds texts of some of the most notorious adaptations including Falstaff's Wedding based on Shakespeare's Henry IV; Nahum Tate's King Lear which re-writes the play with a happy ending; and The World Well Lost, or All For Love, John Dryden's adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra. In the eighteenth century, adapting plays was not only a way to form a bond between actors and audience and make the audience feel a part of the performance, but it also revealed particular styles of different companies (Styan). Comedic plays were more often adapted than tragedies, because these adaptations were an opportunity for the audience to indulge in fantasy (Styan). Adapting plays often included changing or cutting dialogue and plots to not only fit the desires of the audiences but, in some cases, to highlight certain talented or preferred actors.
Utilizing adaptation as a form of furthering their grudge, Henry Woodward and Samuel Foote brought a personal rivalry to London’s brightest stage and captivated the attention of the audiences at the mid-century. Foote initiated the feud with a play titled The Diversions of the Morning in 1748 that featured exaggerated mockeries of popular performers and actors (Oxford DNB). Woodward responded with A Dish of Chocolate, a play mimicking Foote’s acting, and he later vowed to mock Foote in his role as Malagene, a character in an adaptation of Thomas Otway’s Friendship in Fashion. Supporters of Foote filled the crowd on the performance’s second night and initiated a riot, damaging the theatre and bringing the rivalry to an end.