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January 28, 2014

 

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The first evening show of the week, so arrived at Brick Lane Music Hall just before eight o’clock.Empty Coaches outside, and the guests all inside halfway through their three course meal. Rain pouring down, it seems like the perfect way for all of us to spent the evening!

It is Burns night too- and on a Scottish theme, it is the night we say goodbye to Bill McGee- he has been deputising on percussion for Andy Pook who joins us on Tuesday next.

Everyone full of beans back stage, and a full house- Vincent makes certain that it is never quite the same show from night to night, and involves the groups and parties who have come for a good night out with fun and frolics! Some of them come from a very long way away too- for a show that ends after eleven o’clock- and they can carry on and dance until midnight!

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Hayley Jo has some splendid nautical costumes for her role as Mate, and left the theatre looking a million dollars in a Silver sequinned number that Betty would die to wear out on the town!

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My gentleman vicim tonight hailed from Spitalfields, and has been a resident there for over forty-five years. I can’t imagine the changes he has seen in this historic part of London, close to the now gentrified and hugely expensive Spitalfields Market and office blocks, a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street Station.

 

Brick Lane Music Hall (in Silvertown,) is nestling behind the docks that were transformed into the busy City Airport. The huge Tate & Lyle sugar refinery is still here, and right next door there is a complex that is looking after the next big change to this area of East London- Crossrail.  I bet residents of Silvertown have seen some changes in forty years. Five minutes from the Stage Door here is the Thames Barrier, the new Barrier Park and soon a whole business area will be built in what is currently the abandoned site of te London Pleasure Gardens, a short lived dream.

the audience were very lively, and very keen to join in. Too keen for me at one point when someone yelled out the punchline of my joke! He got a good laugh on it so I wasn’t upset. it IS the laugh that counts!

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Vincent’s costume and make up is pure traditional music hall, down to his oversized boots. Saskia’s is the epitome of the Principal Boy costume, harking back to that era when audiences adored the principal boy and the Male impersonator.

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I mentioned Hetty King yesterday, but the Male Impersonator that ruled supreme in Music Hall was the highest paid artiste- no, not Marie Lloyd, but Vesta Tilley- she created her name from a Goddess (and a popular brand of matches) and her surname from a shortened version of her name Matilda!

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Vesta Tilley mostly played the role of Dick Whittington in pantomime, although on this playbill she appears as “Sindbad” the Sailor earlier on in her career.

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Born Matilda Powles in 1864, She had begun her career as a child performer “The Great Little Tilley” and by eleven years old was supporting her entire family who were in the Music Halls.

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In 1906 she laid the foundation stone of the Sunderland Empire Theatre. They have a bar named after her there to this day.

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She became the most popular Music Hall star, loved by women and men alike. Her recruiting campaigns during World War One saw her billed as “Britains Top Recruiting Sergeant” and men would be encouraged to sign up during her performances.

She married the Theatre owner (and her manager) Walter DFreece, and was later to become Lady DeFreece when he was knighted and became a Member Of Parliament in 1919.

She also played Prince and was famously cast in “Beauty and the Beast” at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. She was at that point the highest paid Music Hall performer.

Augustus Harris who produced the pantomimes should have checked his contract more carefully when he engaged her. He had the clever idea of engaging the current Lady Dunlo as “Beauty”- she had just been the subject of a scandalous court case, and then booked Vesta Tilley (Later to become Lady DeFrece) as King Courage.

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Harris failed to tell her that from the second scene, she would be completely masked..With her husband Theatrical entrepreneur Walter DeFreece drafting the contract, Harris discovered he could only engage Miss Tilley as King- not Beast. She now would only appear for the first fifteen minutes of the pantomime!

Miss Tiley then insisted the Stage Manager (John d’Auban) play the “Beast” role, leaving her free to accept Music Hall Engagements throughout the run (after her appearance), and trebling her salary! Harris had offended her, and she never appeared at Drury Lane after that

Vesta Tilley retired in 1920 after a long a hugely profitable “farewell tour” and died in 1952 aged eighty-eight.

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Tuesday’s show is a matinee with afternoon tea. Bring on those glazed Danish!

 

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