Cast and Characters

The Cast and Characters

English Opera House, 28 July 1823

Frankenstein   Mr. Wallack
Clerval his friend, in love with Elizabeth

Mr. Bland

William brother of Frankenstein Master Boden
Fritz servant of Frankenstein Mr. Keeley
DeLacey a banished gentleman—blind Mr. Rowbotham
Felix DeLacey his son Mr. Pearman
Tanskin a gipsy Mr. Shield
Hammerpan a tinker Mr. Salter
First Gipsy    
A Guide an old man Mr. R. Phillips
---------   Mr. T. P. Cooke
Elizabeth sister of Frankenstein Mrs. Austin
Agatha daughter of DeLacey Miss L. Dance
Safie an Arabian girl, betrothed to Felix Miss Povey
Madame Ninon wife to Fritz Mrs. T. Weippert
Gipsies, Peasants, Choristers, and Dancers (Male and Female)  

Scene-Geneva and its vicinity


The Creature.   In the original version the part of the Creature was played by Thomas Potter Cooke (1786-1864), a popular actor who had in his youth served in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The son of a surgeon, Cooke entered the Navy after his father's death and at the age of ten was present on the ship Raven during the siege of Toulon in 1796. He participated in numerous battles thereafter, building a reputation for courage and gallantry under fire, and he was present at the blockade of Brest. He left the Navy after the Peace of Amiens (1802) and began a long career in the theatre. In what is believed to be only his second role he portrayed Lord Nelson in a production at Astley's Ampitheatre. By 1820 Cooke had successfully established himself as a melodramatic actor specializing particularly in roles as vampires and monsters, undoubtedly capitalizing in these roles upon his large and strong physique and great energy. On 9 August 1820 Cooke enjoyed a huge popular success as Ruthven, the hero of The Vampire, a play derived from the novel of that name by Byron's friend John Polidori. The role in Presumption was under these circumstances a logical one for him, and it firmly established his reputation. Interestingly, like the mild-mannered Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt) who played the Creature in the film versions of Frankenstein a century later, Cooke was known off stage as a gentleman in every respect. Accoring to one contemporary account, after the season closes at the English Opera House, Cooke "generally returns to the [Royal] Cobourg [Theatre], where he undertakes the duty of stage-manager, where his kind conciliating manner and gentlemanly conduct has endeared him to all his brother actors" (Mirror of the Stage, n.s. 1:19).

Because Peake's script presents a Creature who never speaks, Cooke was hard pressed, having to make do with elaborate pantomime and dumbshow in his portrayal. Peake radically reduced the Creature's complexity (and therefore both his power and his pathos), leaving him as little more than a brute—albeit one with a remarkable susceptibility to the power of music. Nevertheless, Cooke scored a coup in his portrayal, enduing the Creature with a "capacity for intense feeling and psychological pain" (Moody, 94). Indeed, the British Stage, which reviewed his performance, commented enthusiastically on his ability to capture at once the Creature's "great strength," "towering gait," and "reckless cruelty," on the one hand, and his stunned and almost sublime response to hearing "a concord of sweet sounds" on the other (British Stage, and Literary Cabinet, 1823, 5:30-31). In the original playbill the Creature is not even given a descriptive name but is instead represented merely by a set of dashes, so thoroughly has he been divested in Peake's script of any personal identity or human dignity. One is reminded of Samuel Beckett's malformed character, "the Unnamable." Interestingly, when Universal Pictures produced the first widely successful movie version, James Whale's Frankenstein (1931), the Creature was played by William Henry Pratt, who was given the stage name "Karloff," without any apparent Christian name to accompany it. In its choice of name, Universal was probably capitalizing upon the still fresh Western memories of the violence and atrocities associated with the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and its Stalinist heirs, despite the rise in Germany already at that early date of a more ominous and bloodthirsty totalitarian regime. Only later was the Christian name "Boris" added to the original profoundly Slavic invented surname "Karloff."
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Victor Frankenstein.   Victor was originally played by James William Wallack (1795?-1864), who was in 1823 an internationally acclaimed actor whose American acting company would go on to produce many of of the most important 19th-century American stage performers. The son of a London stage family, he was by the age of twelve already acting in the plays of Shakespeare and Sheridan at Drury Lane, where he subsequently played many increasingly important roles. After an American debut as Hamlet in 1818, he returned to Drury Lane in 1820, reprising his performance as Hamlet before playing in the first performance of Byron's Marino Faliero in April 1821. By the time of his appearance in Presumption in July 1823 he was a well established supporting actor to leading stars like Edmund Kean and William Macready. Known for the "dignity of movement and majesty of action" he brought to his acting, Wallack was nevertheless faulted for a lack of dramatic fervor and for an inability to sustain touching pathos. A contemporary wrote in 1826 that while Wallack may well have been "the best practical actor in the world," possessing "capabilities for becoming the first light comedian in the world," "we are grieved to add, that genius and mind are attributes to which he has but slender claims." Indeed, this writer concluded, "it is fair to presume that he is now as good an actor as he will ever be" (Oxberry, 6: 188-90). In 1837, with his brother Henry John Wallack, he essentially left the English stage to assume the directorship of the National Theatre in New York, although in fact he continued occasional acting tours in the British Isles.

One contemporary observer gives this account of Wallack's performance as Victor Frankenstein: "Mr. Wallack's personation of the agonised student, whose fatal curiosity, and still more fatal success, was sustained with great feeling and talent. He appeared to enter into the realities and strong spirit of the character, and by his gracefulness of attitude, and transitions of countenance, rendered the part highly interesting and deeply impressive.

He look'd the student, whose all fatal daring
    Long sigh'd to pierce what's hid from mortal sight,
Whose noon of life was wasted in preparing—
    A spectral form—too hideous for the sight!"
                                                             (Marshall, 65).

Wallack's physical attractiveness undoubtedly enhanced his effectiveness as Victor Frankenstein. With his dark eyes and hair and his symmetrical, attractive five-foot-eight frame, it is little surprise to learn that he was called in his time "the most handsome man upon the London stage" (Oxberry, 5:192).
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Fritz  The popular comedian Robert Keeley first appeared in this part, which Peake is said to have written expressly for him (Oxberry, 5:151). One of sixteen children, Keeley was born in 1793, was apprenticed to a printer, and after some early work both on stage and as a printer for the theatrical writer and critic William Oxberry, finally was established on stage by 1817. In 1821 he was an enormous success in the role of Jemmy Green in a production at the Adelphi Theatre of Tom and Jerry derived from Pierce Egan's popular book, Tom and Jerry; or, Life in London. He was noted as much for his small stature (he was just over five feet tall) as for his comic roles, most of which were—like that of Fritz—written for him and therefore tended to become ever more similar in nature and substance, so much so that he was regarded as a "mannerist," or what today is called a "stock" character actor whose roles become inseparable from the actor himself. A contemporary observed that "however he may multiply his characters, vary his dresses, his wigs, or his words, it is Robert Keeley, and nothing else" (Oxberry, 5:152). Keeley and his wife performed in a long series of farces and other "light" works; they later expanded their efforts to theatre management, involving themselves in the production of farces and burlesques whose generally popular success the more conservative and conventional theatre critics found utterly scandalous: "What a glorious opportunity has been thrown away . . . . [A]s they could not engross to the class of their own individual performance the entire intellectuality of the national drama, they tumbled into buffoonery" (Marshall, 107).

Keeley's portrayal of the eccentric, nervous Fritz made the servant-assistant a fixture of subsequent stage and film productions of Frankenstein, but it disappointed some who observed it. According to one contemporary critic, "in Fritz, (could we believe a Swiss peasant to be such a victim to nerves) he is excellent, but he is not comic; the creature he creates, shocks us; and we feel too much for the degradation of human nature, to be amused" (Oxberry, 5:153). Interestingly, these comments reflect the double-edged sword faced by most character actors, if not by all actors generally: once one plays a role successfully, one runs the risk of being so totally associated with that role that any subsequent performance is measured by that earlier role and found wanting to the extent that it deviates from the expectations which that performance has established.
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Clerval.     "Mr. Bland" was probably James Bland. James Bland is listed as appearing with Miss Povey in the very successful run of Gil Blas at the English Opera House in August 1822, during a season when Mr. Rowbotham (see DeLacey, below) was also in the cast. Bland was one of the sons of the talented singer and actress Mrs. Bland (née Romanzini), whose notorious infidelities had led her husband to abandon her and emigrate to America; she eventually went mad in 1824. James Bland seems to have been a relative newcomer to the English stage in 1823; in1824-25 it was reported that he "performed at the English Opera last season; but his efforts were not very promising." Commenting on the 1824 season at the English Opera House, Oxberry's Dramatic Biography reported that "Mr. Bland [presumably James] is melancholy about his reception last season" (Oxberry, 2:191). Another "Mr. Bland," George, was also active in the 1820s; this may have been another of Mrs. Bland's several children, and perhaps the one of whom the same source noted that "theatrical report speaks highly" (Oxberry, 1:167).
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Felix DeLacey.     The role of Felix was played by William Pearman, who was most active c. 1810-24. Pearman was born in Manchester in 1792 and, like Thomas Potter Cooke, served in the Navy, retiring after being wounded in the leg. A small man (said to stand only five foot three), Pearman carried himself with such grace that the lameness that resulted from his wound was seldom apparent. He attempted a career as an actor, with little success, but he gradually became known as a singer in theatres outside London, despite having only limited vocal abilities; his low tenor voice was narrow in range, and too soft to be effective in larger theatres. Nevertheless, by 1822 Pearman was accounted "first singer at the English Opera," which led to an unsuccessful engagement at Covent Garden.

Given the grace of his bearing, the delicacy of his voice, and a countenance that was described at the time as "decidedly foreign" (Oxberry 1:151), it is not surprising that Pearman was selected for the romantic role of the young French exile, Felix DeLacey. While it may be mere coincidence, it is worth noting that among the actors and actresses about whom I have been able to discover significant information, Pearman, Robert Keeley (who played Fritz), and Mary Ann Povey (Safie) are all described as very short or (in Povey's case) petite; their relatively small physical size as members of a stage ensemble would naturally have served to emphasize even more the comparatively large physical stature of Thomas Potter Cooke, who at nearly six feet in height was playing the Creature.
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DeLacey.      I have been unable to learn much about the "Mr. Rowbothom" identified with this role on the 1823 playbill, although he is mentioned in connection with several productions at the English Opera House during the 1820s. Samuel Arnold, who managed the theatre, had annoyed the orthodox London theatre establishment—and delighted many crtitics—by enlisting the talents of a considerable number of provincial actors and actresses (William Pearman is a good example). Rowbotham was one of these, known for his versatility within the confines imposed by essentially similar character roles. The Mirror of the Stage reported in 1824 that "this gentleman is at the head of that corps of actors denominated 'useful;' like the Duke Aranza's cottage furniture, serving a dozen purposes with equal propriety." The Mirror's writer found Rowbotham too methodical, too studied, and too much lacking in spontaneity, however, even likening his talent to "the carved work of a bed post." But the same writer observed nevertheless that his forte was the portrayal of patriarchs: "we identify Rowbotham with vigorous old age: the gnarled oak, boisterous in nakedness, and we wish, with all the imperfections of this actor, that the Minor Theatre had more of his quality" (Mirror of the Stage, n.s. 4:129). Given the nature of the elder DeLacey's role, it is not hard to understand why Rowbotham was cast in the part.
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William Frankenstein.     The role of Victor Frankenstein's young brother was played in 1823 by a "Master Boden," about whom I have been unable to learn anything substantial. Presumably he was a child or adolescent actor.
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Elizabeth .     The 1823 playbill lists "Miss Austin," who was probably the Elizabeth Austin who is also called "Mrs. Austin" during the same year, 1823. She appears to have been a familar actress and singer in productions at Drury Lane. Surprisingly little information exists about her or her stage career.
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Agatha DeLacey.     The original production included Miss L. Dance in the role of Agatha. This is Louisa Dance, who had made her debut at the English Opera House in The Marriage of Figaro. Like "Miss Austin," she remains relatively elusive. She seems to have been another of the singer-actresses who performed frequently at the English Opera House, with some additional regular-season work in Drury Lane or Covent Garden. The Mirror of the Stage wrote of her performance in The Marriage of Figaro in 1823 that her vocal abilities were insufficient to the demands of such a musical work, partly owing to her limited range, though it held out hope that practice might yet make her—if not perfect, at least "valuable" as a singer (n.s. 3:11). She is described as tall and vivacious, with a "lady-like and elegant" bearing (Mirror of the Stage n.s. 2:202).
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Safie.     "Miss Povey" would seem to be Mary Ann Povey, who later married a son of the Drury Lane figure, Knight. Born in Birmingham in 1804, she gained an early reputation as a vocalist. Surviving a potentially career-ending illness in 1821, she became a regular at Drury Lane. She also performed regularly at the English Opera House, where in 1823 she was cast in the role of Safie. A student of the Irish musician, actor and singer Thomas (Tom) Cooke (who was born in Dublin in 1781 and who in 1823 had recently performed prominently at Drury Lane in Carl Maria von Weber's Die Freischütz), she enjoyed mixed critical success, as is evident from comments that appeared in 1825. There her manner of singing is described as "infantine and unsustained," characterized by a continual "effort to do that which, in fact, from natural qualifications, she could do without any effort at all." Nevertheless, the same critic says this about her stage presence: "Miss Povey's figure is extremely petite; her countenance is very pleasing, though not strictly beautiful; her manners are unassuming; her voice, in speaking, very enchanting, though too childish to be effective on the stage" (Oxberry, 2:234-38). These characteristics, together with her admitted skill at ballad-singing, suggest why she may have been a good choice to play Safie as Peake's drama represented her.
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Madame Ninon.   Madame Ninon, whose rather formal name seems an odd fit with her status as the wife of Fritz, the servant, is perhaps meant to suggest Ninon de Lenclos, a 17c. Parisian salon leader and freethinker who had gained something of a legendary status as a sexually active older woman (Reiman and Fraistat 318). According to the 1823 playbill, the character was first played by a Mrs. T. Weippert, about whom I have been unable to discover more than a few tantalizing details. In its notice of the play in August 1823, the Mirror of the Stage; or, New Dramatic Censor found Mrs. Weippert (whose initial it gives as "I.") of particular interest: "as a singer, this lady's merits are not above mediocrity; but whenever she is put into characters suited to her talents, such as pert servants, or romping hoyden's [sic], she displays considerable vivacity and spirit." This suggests that she was in fact a relatively well known minor actress familiar to London audiences for her performances in "character roles." Oxberry mentions a Mrs. J. Wieppert whose maiden name was Stevenson and who was active as early as 1817. Despite the apparent confusion about her Christian name (and its initial), this is probably the same actress. She was almost certainly one of the provincial actresses and actors hired by Samuel Arnold for performances at the English Opera House (Oxberry, 1:147). I especially regret the lack of more extensive information about this intriguing actress, since Madame Ninon is a lively, feisty, argumentative character whose stage ancestry seems likely to extend all the way back to Noah's shrewish wife in the medieval drama.
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Other Characters, Actors, and Actresses.    These were all minor, stock actors and actresses of the sort that "fill out a company." Those whose names are given on the playbill (Shield, Salter, Phillips) were undoubtedly what are today called "bit players," as is evident from the minor nature of their roles and the actors' virtual absence from most records of the period. Salter, for instance, like Mrs Weippert (see Madame Ninon, above) was another of the provincial actors signed by Arnold at the English Opera House to frustrate the monopolistic practices of the so-called legitimate theatres when it came to "off-season" employment (Oxberry, 1:147-48). The Mirror of the Stage, in 1824, called Salter's a "general and useful talent" adept at a variety of roles and character types "without being actually great in any thing" (Mirror of the Stage, n.s. 4:20).
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