the Riches

Definition

Theater

  • The British theater managers Christopher Rich (d. 1714) andhis son, the Harlequin John Rich (1681 - 1761).

    Christopher Rich was a lawyer who bought a sharein Drury Lane, subsequently taking control of the theaterin 1693. He spent much of his time in lawsuits and became notoriousfor manipulating and bullying actors and cutting their salaries. Allthis caused the great actor Thomas Betterton and most ofhis company to walk out, leaving Rich with a group of second-rateperformers. After the Lord Chamberlain closed Drury Lane, Rich boughtthe deserted Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre to refurbish butdied before he could reopen it.

    His son, John Rich, who inherited Lincoln's Inn Fields,became a successful Harlequin using the stage name of Lun.Virtually illiterate, he did more than anyone else to create the Englishpantomime, producing one such show annually from 1717 to1760. In 1725 he devised Harlequin Sorcerer, with the Loves ofPluto and Proserpine, in which the title character knocked downtraders, leapt through glass, climbed walls, and dashed down chimneyswhile being chased by a village constable. Many contemporaries paidtribute to the brilliance of his miming and his agility on stage:

    He hides where it is impossible to hide, he passes throughopenings that are smaller than his body, he stands on supports thatare too weak to support his weight, he balances on an umbrella, hecurls up inside a guitar-case - and throughout, he flees, heescapes, he leaps.
    Théodore De Banville

    One night in 1721 a drunken earl was backstage and, seeing friends inthe opposite wing, walked across the stage disrupting the scene then beingacted. When tongue-lashed by Rich, he struck the Harlequin, who hit back. Ariot ensued between actors and aristocrats, the latter storming the boxes withswords before the actor James 'Bellower' Quin overpowered them withthe help of a constable and theater watchmen. The king, informed of the riot,posted soldiers in the theater for the next few performances.

    Rich's outstanding success as a manager was Gay's TheBeggar's Opera, which was produced in 1728 at Lincoln's Inn Fields.Its record run of 62 performances led to the quip that it had "madeGay rich and Rich gay". It provided him with the funds to buildthe first Covent Garden Theatre in 1732.

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