Entertainment - Theatre - Music Halls - general comments

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Music Halls—The music-hall, as it is at present understood, was started many years ago at the Canterbury Hall over the water. The entertainments proving popular, the example was speedily followed in every quarter of the town. The performance in no way differs, except in magnitude, from those which are to be seen in every town of any importance throughout the country. Ballet, gymnastics, and so-called comic singing, form the staple of the bill of fare, but nothing comes foreign to the music-hall proprietor. Performing animals, winners of walking. matches, successful scullers, shipwrecked sailors, swimmers of the Channel, conjurers, ventriloquists, tight-rope dancers, campanologists, clog-dancers, sword-swallowers, velocipedists, champion skaters, imitators, marionettes, decanter equilibrists, champion shots, “living models of marble gems,” “statue marvels,” fire princes, “mysterious youths,” “spiral bicycle ascensionists,” flying children, empresses of the air, kings of the wire, “vital sparks,” Mexican boneless wonders,” white-eyed musical Kaffirs,’ strong-jawed ladies, cannon-ball performers, illuminated fountains, and that remarkable musical eccentricity the orchestre militaire, all have had their turn on the music-hall stage. Strangers to the business may be warned that the word “turn,’ as understood in the profession, means the performance for which the artist is engaged, and frequently comprises four or more songs, however much or little of pleasure the first effort may have given the audience. Furthermore, as many of the popular performers take several “turns” nightly, it is undesirable to visit many of these establishments on the same evening, as it is quite possible to go to four or five halls in different parts of the town, and to find widely diverse stages occupied by the same sets of performers. Among the principal halls may be mentioned the Bedford, in Camden Town; the Canterbury, Westminster-bridge-road; the Foresters, Cambridge-rd, E.; Gatti’s, Westminster-bridge-road; the London Pavilion, at the top of the Haymarket; Evans’s, Covent-garden; the Metropolitan, Edgware-road; the Oxford, Oxford-street; the Cambridge, 136, Commercial-street; Lusby’s Palace, Mile End-road; the Royal, High Holborn; the South London, London-road, SE. ; and Wilton’s in Wellclose-square, in the far east. Of these the Canterbury, the Metropolitan, and the South London have a specialty for ballet on a large scale. The Canterbury has an arrangement for ventilation peculiar to itself. A large portion of the roof is so arranged as to admit of its easy and rapid removal and replacement. The entertainments at the other halls vary only in degree. The operatic selections which were at one time the distinguishing feature of the Oxford have of late years been discontinued. A curiosity in the way of music-halls may be found by the explorer at the “Bell,” in St. George-street, Ratcliff-highway, where, contrary to precedent, the negro element preponderates among the audience instead of on the stage. The hours of performance at most music-halls are from about 8 till 11.30, and the prices of admission vary from 6d. to 3s. Private boxes, at varying prices, may be had at nearly all the music-halls.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Came home late after an evening at the Argyll Music Hall in Piccadilly [present site of Trocadero Restaurant], where I heard a singer poke fun at the German princes who marry into the British Royal Family. Most of the artists appear to make their appeal with songs about "booze" or how they beat "the old woman," presumably the wife. The best part of the show was the chairman, who sits below the stage, announces the performers, pounds his gavel for order, and consumes endless and various drinks at the expense of people in the audience who like to let their friends see that they know the chairman.
    It was very warm in the theatre. I asked for a long drink of lemonade, which here is called "lemon squash." The waiter brought it, luke-warm. "Will you get me some ice, please?" I asked. "Get you what, sir?" he asked in turn. "Ice." "Why?" "To make this stuff drinkable." And then he burst into laughter. "We don't keep it," he said indulgently. I cannot understand how these people exist without ice. I have not seen a chip of it since I landed. As for ice cream, they barely know what it is except at expensive restaurants. The poor only get ale and winkles.'

R.D.Blumenfeld's Diary, Jnue 24, 1887