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Marie Lloyd Stole My Life

by on 9 August 2021

Power of The Camden Fringe

Marie Lloyd Stole My Life

by J.J. Leppink

Blue Fire Theatre Company at Water Rats, Camden Fringe then at Museum of Comedy until 21st August.

Review by David Stephens

“I’m reviewing a play about a Victorian Music Hall singer.”
“Oh, is it Marie Lloyd?”
“No… but funny you should say that…”.

The above is an excerpt from a conversation with a family member prior to my attending last night’s performance of Marie Lloyd Stole My Life, at this year’s Camden Fringe Festival, and, by the end of this short exchange, the author’s apparent need to tell this relatively unknown story immediately dawned on me.  Most people, even with only a vague knowledge of theatrical history, will recognise the name of the ‘queen’ of British music hall, ‘Marie Lloyd’, but how many will have heard of ‘Nelly Power’, one of the early stars of this theatrical genre, whose sparkle was dulled significantly when the former burst onto the scene, stealing more than just her limelight?  This brilliantly written monologue leaves us in no doubt about who, according to Power at least, the true star of ‘music hall’ really was.

Staged in the perfectly-suited theatre at the rear of the iconic Water Rats Theatre Bar in London’s Kings Cross, quite literally a stone’s throw from St. Pancras, the birthplace of Nelly Power, it was in the saloon bars of public houses such as this, that the music hall genre was originally born, allowing raucous audiences to eat, drink, smoke, cheer and sing-along to their favourite acts in affordable surroundings.  Indeed, this venue was itself a vibrant music hall, still hosting ‘Variety’ until as recently as the 1980’s.  It was, therefore, almost like stepping back in time when, walking into the ex-Saloon Bar of this pub, we were immediately greeted by the tinkling ivories of the “old Joanna”, under orange-tinged lighting, perfectly replicating the dimly-lit venues of bygone times.

This piece (approx 55min in length, including three short songs), gives great insight into the history of the rivalry between the pair and the resultant animosity felt by Power towards the young pretender.  After all, she was the superstar that everyone wanted a piece of “until some cow nicked [her] greatest hit”.

The piece is beautifully crafted by J.J. Leppink and superbly acted by Lottie Walker, who appears in a superbly detailed costume and really brings the character and her fascinating story to life.  The songs, a mixture of cockney knees-up classics such as, My Ol’ Man Said Foller the Van, contrasted with the heart-warming, The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery, offered the perfect blend of comedy and poignancy, and Walker’s contrasting performance of these well-known favourites was an absolute treat.  One could not help but tap one’s feet and quietly sing along.  Accompanying her on the ‘old Joanna’, which was actually a very modern keyboard (that perhaps could have been better disguised), was Musical Director, James Hall.  James welcomed us with some light piano before ‘curtain up’ and his musical accompaniment throughout the performance created just the right level of mood in all the right places.  The piece ends beautifully, with all other lights down and with Nelly spot-lit in a semi-ethereal light.  She takes her final curtain-call, leaving the audience wondering whether we had just witnessed an acted monologue or, just maybe, the ghost of someone long-forgotten, gracing the stage for one last time.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance and this fascinating story has already prompted me to research the history of these characters and their musical genre in greater detail.

If you’re thinking of visiting this year’s fringe, this is one not to be missed.

David Stephens, August 2021

Photography courtesy of Blue Fire

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