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Birmingham welcomes Grimaldi

In 1810 Grimaldi was appearing at the newly rebuilt Covent Garden theatre in London. His sister-in-law Louisa Bristow had found work at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham, so he agreed to do a benefit performance for her in December 1810. As he was so popular the manager, Mr. McReady, asked him to perform for three more nights. Grimaldi had checked his contract with Covent Garden before leaving London, and thought he would be free for a week, so agreed. The second night was advertised:

From the very flattering Applause with which Mr Grimaldi was universally honoured, and the general Satisfaction which his Performances afforded the Ladies and Gentlemen of Birmingham, they are respectfully informed, that Mr McREADY has engaged him for THREE NIGHTS...

On that night he appeared as Clown in a variety of pantomime scenes from a number of harlequinades, also in the ‘serious pantomime’ - ‘The Deserter of Naples.’

In his memoirs Grimaldi described two episodes linked with these performances. Firstly he discovered that the Birmingham theatre had no ‘properties’ suitable for pantomime tricks. When he mentioned this to the manager McReady expressed surprise, but told a man to go to the market to buy ‘a small pig, a goose, and two ducks…’ Grimaldi was puzzled, but decided that the manager had used ‘peculiar phrases common to the theatre.’ There was an uproar and laughter when the man returned – with pig, goose and ducks, all alive. Grimaldi then adapted his stage entrance to include the live animals, with great success; the audience responded with roars of laughter. The house was ‘full to the ceiling.’

On the third day in Birmingham he received a letter from a friend. Covent Garden had advertised that he would appear there the day following his last show in Birmingham. There was no easy or quick way of getting to London, travelling on ‘roads in a most desperate condition’. Grimaldi told McReady he had to leave early. McReady refused ‘they will pull the house down’ but arranged a post-chaise for him. Grimaldi stepped from the door of the theatre into the chaise at midnight, and had a desperate journey ‘without any refreshment whatever’ to arrive just in time at Covent Garden as the overture was playing. However it was worthwhile as McReady had paid him £294 for the three extra nights.

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