Wigan, Alfred Sydney (DNB00)
|←Wiffen, Jeremiah Holmes||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 61
Wigan, Alfred Sydney
WIGAN, ALFRED SYDNEY (1814–1878), actor, whose father, a teacher of languages, was at one time secretary to the Dramatic Authors' Society, was born at Blackheath, Kent, on 24 March 1814. Exhibiting some talent for music, he became ‘a wandering minstrel,’ and sang at Ramsgate, Margate, and elsewhere. He was also an usher at a school and assisted his father at the Dramatic Authors' Society. Under the name of Sydney or Sidney he was in 1834 at the Lyceum, and the following year was under Mrs. Louisa Cranstoun Nisbett [q. v.] at the Queen's Theatre, Tottenham Street. When John Braham [q. v.] opened the newly erected St. James's, Wigan joined him, and, under the name of Sidney, was on 29 Sept. 1836 the original John Johnson in the ‘Strange Gentleman,’ by Charles Dickens. In 1838 he was at a small theatre in the Old Manor House, King's Road, Chelsea, where he played Tom Tug in the ‘Waterman,’ and other musical parts, and sang songs between the acts. With Madame Vestris he appeared in 1839 at Covent Garden as Mr. Wigan, playing the original Sir Conrad (or, according to another account, Sir Otto) in Sheridan Knowles's ‘Love.’ On 5 Aug. of this year (Tallis's Dramatic Magazine; another account says 1841) he married the actress Leonora Pincott [see below]. In Boucicault's ‘Irish Heiress’ he played a French valet. He was seen as Lionel Scruple in the revised comedy of ‘Court and City,’ was the original Miffin in Jerrold's ‘Bubbles of the Day’ in March 1842, and played Lord Allcash in ‘Fra Diavolo’ and other operatic parts. Some success attended his Montagu Tigg in ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ and his French usher in ‘To Parents and Guardians.’ Not until he was cast for Alcibiades Blague in Jerrold's ‘Gertrude's Cherries, or Waterloo in 1835,’ did he show, as a guide to the field of Waterloo and a seller of vamped-up relics of the fight, the remarkable finish of his style. The impression he created was strengthened by his performance in November of Bruce Siney, an adventurer, in Mark Lemon's ‘Turf.’ Mark Meddle in a revival of ‘London Assurance’ followed. On the abrupt closing of Covent Garden he went to the Strand, where he played Iago in a burlesque of ‘Othello’ and parodied Macready, and was on 15 Jan. 1844 a dancing-master in Peake's ‘Madelon.’ At Drury Lane he had previously played Trip in a revival by Macready of the ‘School for Scandal.’ At the Lyceum, with the Keeleys, in 1844 and subsequent years he produced his own ‘Watch and Ward’ (in which he was the Chevalier Du Guet), ‘Model of a Wife’ (in which he was Pygmalion Bonnefoi), ‘Luck's All,’ ‘The Loan of a Wife,’ ‘Next Door,’ and ‘Five Hundred Pounds Reward,’ in all of which he took some part.
A performance of the Prince in the ‘Cin- derella’ of Albert Smith and Tom Taylor strengthened his reputation. As a member of Webster's company he appeared at the Haymarket on 2 Oct. 1847, playing Sir Benjamin Backbite in a revival of the ‘School for Scandal.’ On 20 Oct. 1847 he was the first Osborne in Westland Marston's ‘Heart and the World,’ and on 15 Nov. the first Hector Mauléon in Webster's ‘Roused Lion.’ He also played Dudley Smooth in ‘Money,’ Goldfinch in the ‘Road to Ruin,’ and Tattle in ‘Love for Love.’ At the Olympic he appeared with Mrs. Mary Anne Stirling [q. v.], playing the hero of ‘Monsieur Jacques,’ a musical comedy by Morris Barnett, a character created eleven years previously by the author. In this part he raised his reputation to its height. Here he produced his own ‘Law for Ladies.’ In 1848–9 he was at the Haymarket with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean. Here he enacted the Clown in ‘Twelfth Night,’ Bassanio in the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ one of the Witches in ‘Macbeth,’ and Tom Purple in Jerrold's ‘Housekeeper.’ His Achille Talma Dufard in the ‘First Night’ (‘Le Père de la Débutante’), seen at the Princess's in October 1849, was one of his finest impersonations. At the Olympic he produced in 1850 his farce ‘A Dead Take-in.’ Joining the Kean and Keeley combination at the Princess's, he appeared on 28 Sept. 1850, the opening night, as the original Tom Rawlings in Bayle Bernard's ‘Platonic Attachments.’ He was seen as Osric in ‘Hamlet,’ as Orlando, and as Dr. Caius in ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’ On 4 June 1851 he was the first Richelieu in Slous's ‘Duke's Wager’ (‘Mlle. de Belle Isle’). On 24 Feb. 1852 Wigan was the first Château-Renaud in the ‘Corsican Brothers,’ on 5 March the first Richard Hazard in Tom Taylor's ‘Our Clerks,’ and in May the first Paul Raimbaut in ‘A Lucky Friday,’ a part he repeated by command at Windsor Castle. He had also played Faulconbridge in ‘King John.’ At the Adelphi he was in June 1853 the first Dixiner in Boucicault's ‘Geneviève.’ He was also seen as Jonathan Wild in ‘Jack Sheppard.’ On 17 Oct. 1853 he opened the Olympic with Planché's ‘Camp’ and Taylor's ‘Plot and Passion’ (in which he was the hero), had an original part in Palgrave Simpson's ‘Heads and Tails’ on 29 June 1854, and was the first Thornby in his own and Talfourd's ‘Tit for Tat’ (‘Les Maris me font rire’) on 23 Jan. 1855. On 14 May he obtained another conspicuous success as the first John Mildmay in Taylor's ‘Still Waters run deep.’ He also played Joseph Surface. In 1857, on the plea of ill-health, he took a benefit on his retirement from the stage, on which he reappeared at the Adelphi on 17 March 1859 as Sir Paul Pagoda in the ‘Bengal Tiger.’ He was in May 1859 the original Horace Chetwynd in the ‘House or the Home,’ an adaptation by Taylor from ‘Péril dans la Demeure.’ On 29 Feb. 1860 he was the first Sir Richard Plinlimmon in Watts Phillips's ‘Paper Wings.’ He also took part in ‘It's an ill Wind that blows Nobody any good’ and other pieces. On 29 Nov. Wigan opened the St. James's with ‘Up at the Hills,’ in which he was Major Stonyhurst. After playing the hero of the ‘Isle of St. Tropez,’ he strengthened his reputation as the hero of ‘A Scrap of Paper’ (‘Les Pattes de Mouche’) in April 1861. In May 1863 he was, at the Haymarket, Dr. Bertrand in Lady Dufferin's ‘Finesse, or Spy and Counter Spy.’ The following year he gave, with his wife, a series of readings in London. On 24 Oct. 1867 he opened the newly erected Queen's Theatre in Long Acre with Charles Reade's ‘Double Marriage,’ adapted from his novel of ‘White Lies.’ In this Wigan was Captain Raynal. On 11 May 1868 he reappeared as the Marquis de Belleterre in the ‘Poor Nobleman,’ Selby's adaptation of ‘Un Gentilhomme Pauvre,’ in which he had previously been seen, and played Sir Anthony Absolute. On the opening of the Gaiety on 21 Dec. 1868 he was Adolphe Chavillard in ‘On the Cards,’ an adaptation by Alfred Thompson of ‘L'Escamoteur.’ On 27 March 1869 he was Rittmeister Harfthal in Robertson's ‘Dreams.’ In the ‘Life Chase,’ an adaptation by Oxenford and Horace Wigan of ‘Le Drame de la Rue de la Paix,’ he was, at the same house, Bertrand Alvimar, on 11 Oct. For the benefit of Charles Mathews he played Dangle in the ‘Critic.’ In the ‘Man of Quality,’ an alteration by John Hollingshead of the ‘Relapse,’ he was Lord Foppington on 7 May 1870. On 6 July 1872 in the ‘First Night’ and ‘Still Waters run deep’ he took a farewell benefit at Drury Lane and retired from the stage. After giving a few private readings, he was seen at the Gaiety at an afternoon performance of ‘The House or the Home’ and the ‘Bengal Tiger.’ In the summer of 1878 he left his house, 33 Brompton Square, and on 29 Nov. he died at 26 Sandgate Road, Folkestone. He was buried in Kensal Green cemetery on 8 Dec. A good portrait was engraved for the ‘Illustrated London News’ (14 Dec. 1878).
Wigan was an admirable actor in a rather narrow groove. He lacked robustness and breadth of style, and could never play a modern gentleman, which part he could not even dress. His method was modelled to some extent upon that of Bouffé, a brilliant French actor of the early part of the century. Humour and pathos were, however, equally at his command. He was a French scholar, and his greatest successes were made in Frenchmen or characters in which he spoke French or broken English—Tourbillon in ‘To Parents and Guardians,’ Château-Renaud, Talma Dufard, Adolphe Chavillard, Hector Mauléon in the ‘Roused Lion,’ and the Marquis de Belleterre in the ‘Poor Nobleman.’ In the piece last named his conquest of humiliation and his efforts to hide from the world the depths of his poverty had extreme pathos. Among purely English characters, his John Mildmay in ‘Still Waters run deep’ may count as his masterpiece.
No list of his plays, many of them unprinted, is obtainable. The following, included in various acting editions, are in the ‘British Museum Catalogue:’ ‘Loan of a Wife,’ a farce in one act; ‘A Model of a Wife,’ in one act; ‘Five Hundred Pounds Reward,’ a comic drama in two acts; and ‘Tit for Tat,’ a comedietta by Francis Talfourd and A. Wigan (January 1855).
Wigan's wife, Leonora Wigan, known as Mrs. Alfred Wigan (1805–1884), was daughter of Pincott, a showman, and his wife Elizabeth, a daughter of William Wallack and sister of James William Wallack [q. v.] She was at the outset a rope-dancer and performer on stilts. Her first appearance in London took place on 6 July 1818 at the English Opera House (Lyceum) as Chimpanzee in a pantomime drama entitled ‘La Perouse, or the Desolate Island,’ founded on Kotzebue. Her mother, Mrs. Pincott, was Umba and J. P. Cooke La Perouse. Leonora Pincott also took part in the ballet of ‘Don Juan,’ was Ganymede in ‘Midas,’ the Crown Prince in ‘Ah! What a Pity,’ and Julio in the ‘Devil's Bridge.’ She was next at Drury Lane, at which her uncle, James Wallack, was stage-manager (1826–8), playing pantomime, utility, and walking ladies. She was on 10 March 1827 the first Antoinette in ‘Comfortable Lodgings, or Paris in 1750.’ On 16 April she was the first Donna Mensia in Macfarlane's ‘Boy of Santillane, or Gil Blas and the Robbers of Asturia,’ on 1 May Clara de Lorenzo in ‘Turkish Lovers,’ and on 15 Oct. Henry Germaine in Thompson's adaptation ‘Gambler's Fate, or a Lapse of Twenty Years.’ In 1831 she was with Mme. Vestris at the Olympic, where her Catherine Seton, in a burlesque on ‘Mary Queen of Scots,’ attracted attention. In or about 1839 she married Alfred Wigan, whose senior by several years she was, and whom she had nursed during an illness. When (8 April 1844) the Lyceum opened under the Keeley management, Mrs. Wigan spoke as a police-inspector of fairies the opening lines of Gilbert à Beckett's ‘Forty Thieves,’ in which Wigan was Mustapha. She had a plump figure, a bright eye, and a mass of dark hair, but was not otherwise attractive. To her husband and his associate and partner, Robson, she was of great service, as she had stage knowledge and flair, though with no special expository capacity. She took, after her marriage, some important parts—Mrs. Candour and Mrs. Malaprop (both of which she over-accentuated), obtained applause as Mrs. Yellowleaf in the ‘Bengal Tiger,’ and Mrs. m'Cann in ‘Up at the Hills.’ Her best part was Mrs. Hector Sternhold in ‘Still Waters run deep,’ of which Mrs. Melfort was the original exponent; in this she outplayed her predecessor and Mrs. Stirling, who also took the part. She supported her husband at most of the theatres at which he appeared, and acquired a reputation in Frenchwomen. As an example of the unconsciousness of some performers during their acting Mr. Archer relates the story that Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wigan, ‘having made some mistake in a cue at the end of an important scene, played the whole scene over again in blissful unconsciousness of their blunder’ (Masks or Faces, p. 69). She died on 17 April 1884. Her sister, Ellena Elizabeth Pincott, played on 14 March 1814 at Covent Garden the Duke of York in ‘Richard the Third.’[The mist which ordinarily surrounds the beginning of theatrical careers is in the case of Alfred Wigan, and in a less degree that of his wife, thicker than usual, and the notices contributed presumably by himself to various periodicals are unlike and sometimes contradictory. The foregoing biography is drawn from personal knowledge and private information. Genest's Account of the English Stage; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Theatre, 1884; Morley's Journal of a London Playgoer, pp. 61, 191, 231; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Theatrical Times, vol. i.; Cole's Life and Times of C. Kean; Stirling's Old Drury Lane, i. 309; Dutton Cook's Nights at the Play, 1883; Tallis's Dramatic Magazine; Men of the Time; Men of the Reign; Shepherd's Plays and Poems of Charles Dickens; Era Almanack, various years; Era, 8 Dec. 1878, 19 April 1884; Daily News, 19 April 1884.]