Collection No.23: The Manager in Distress, by George Colman the Elder

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Colman, George (the Elder)
Author dates: 1732-1794
Title: The Manager in Distress

First played: 1780
First published: 1780, for T. Cadell [etc.] 23 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1780)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Interlude

Trend(s): Contemporary Satire; Popularity

Character types: Orator; Irish

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The play satirizes the challenges faced by Colman as manager of the Covent Garden theatre.

Easy and the Manager drink; Easy comments that the food at the play was unsubstantial and that the actors looked like they were starving. He says that he will borrow a few hundred pounds from the Manager in September (a proposal to which the Manager is reluctant to agree). Bustleton arrives and tells the Manager that he has found out that there is to be no play that evening because Drury Lane and Covent Garden plan to take away his performers: the Haymarket is gaining too much influence. A letter arrives from Parsons, one of the top actors, to say that he intends to spend the summer at Drury Lane instead of at the Haymarket. Four actresses enter to say that they have quit the theatre to work as orators, which pays more and requires less skill. The Prompter enters; because none of the actors is in the green-room, the Manager instructs him to apologize to the members of the audience and to return their money. The Prompter addresses the audience, but is interrupted by an Irishman, who says that the most important part of a play is its audience. A lady rises to say that tradespeople could supply new blood for the stage. A gentleman suggests that they should use pasteboard cutouts, as actors did in classical times. A woman enters to tell the Prompter that the actors are waiting to perform. The Prompter announces that Colman’s The Suicide and O’Hara’s Midas will be performed that evening.

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Secondary commentary

A) Sondergard, Sid. ‘George Colman, the Elder: April 15, 1732-August 14, 1794’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 26 May 2008.
"The Manager in Distress addresses the perennial Haymarket problem of personnel shortages that resulted whenever the patentees of the large playhouses decided "that one house shou'd withdraw their performers, and the other forbid theirs from supplying their places." The "Little Manager" milked sympathy successfully from his patrons, as his distress played for thirty performances that summer."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

StE, except for one Irishman.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Irishman
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 18]
IRISHMAN, from the Pit.

Before you say any more, my dear---Mr. Prompter, that's your name, I think---give me leave to ax

[page 19 ]

you one little quiston; It's for want of play actors that we are to have no Play at all, is not it, Honey?

It is, Sir.

Oh, upon my soul now, that's no rason at all--- have not we got the playhouse for all night---and mayn't we be the play actors ourselves? have not half the Jontlemen and Ladies in England been playing the fool all over the country, and has not your own little Manager there been blacking his own little face at Christmas down in North Wales? Have not your Lords and fine Ladies been taking off Miniature Pictures, just by the Bath road? and have not the folks been taking Miniature copies at Large in Drury Lane? and are not there two great Houses down at Westminster, ---(not to spake of Westminster Hall)---where the Lords and Jontlemen are talking all day, and all night too fait, for their own diversion and that of the Publick? And pray now where's the want of a Play at your Schools for Eloquence, where the company can every night act a little play of their own? and why shou'd your foolish Manager pay his Actors for talking, when the Publick will pay him for letting them talk themselves? For my part, I am a true born Irishman, and one of the Loyal Volunteers; and so I stand up for the privileges of an Englishman---and I insist upon it, that the most material part of a Playhouse is the Audience; and as long as the Audience are present, it does not signify a brass farthing whether there are Actors or no; and I say---I say---I have nothing more to say at all.

b.1 Orthography: “ax” (ask); “quiston” (question); “rason” (reason); “Jontleman”
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “honey”; “my dear”
c. Nationality: Irish
d. Character profile: in the Pit = a poor audience member
e. Consistency of representation: consistent (throughout this speech)

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

A comment on schools of oratory (like Thomas Sheridan’s):
1st LADY.
Oh dear Sir, say no more; we must give the schools for eloquence the preference to the theatres; the profit is much greater, and the trouble much less.

2d LADY.
To be sure; for on the stage we are expected to be ripe in our parts, or to encounter censure and disapprobation; one might as well sing at Sadlers Wells, or ride upon three horses at Astley's.

3d LADY.
True; but in the other elegant assemblies if we shou'd

[page 14 ]

be rather imperfect in an extempore oration, or if we shou'd happen to boggle in the midst of a sentence--- from the copy of the speech being given us too late, or from our other avocations preventing our studying it--- we have nothing to do but to hem, or cough a little, hold our fans to our faces for half a minute, and thus, overcome with modesty, sit down amidst a thunder of applause.

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Other points of interest

Mixing literary metaphors:
Nay, be firm! think on what I was saying to you; remember Cato and Captain Macheath, Mr. Dapperwit! nothing so noble as a great man in distress.

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©2008 Arden Hegele