Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre - Actors, Actresses and Acts - Zuleilah

Went to Bishopsgate Street, with a view to a paper on Female gymnasts; for at the Cambridge Music Hall near Shoreditch Station, one such is performing, soidisant Zuleilah. The boxkeeper, a civil and very decent man, informed me that Zuleilah' is a Miss Foster, a publican's daughter of the neighbourhood; that she only became an acrobat 2 or 3 months ago, stimulated, like the rest of them, by the success of La Pereira; and that she is a very respectable girl'. I went in, and she appeared on the stage with her tutor Leopold', a fine muscular young fellow. Lizzie Foster herself was drest like a male acrobat, in tights, with spangled trunk hose and a sleeveless vest; her dark hair drest like a woman's, & with a rose coquettishly placed over one ear. A respectable looking lass of 18 or 20, not tall, but robust and well made; with a comely rustic face like a milkmaid's. Two 'trapézes' were hung high in air, and a third below them: she climbed up by a rope to one, and he to the other; and then she sprang or climbed, monkey-fashion, from each to each, and hung and turned and twisted to and fro and up and down, sometimes alone, sometimes along with him; for he would seize her now and then by the wrist or the ankle, and toss her about, head downwards very often, as if she were a puppet. . . a year ago, it would have seemed incredible that my sketch above is a faithful picture of an English girl, as she appears nightly, before an applauding London audience....
    Coming out of this place, about ten o'clock, I observed just opposite the Shoreditch Station a brilliantly lighted entrance to a 'Temperance Music Hall'. The admission was only one penny; and I went in, and found myself in the pit of a small and very dingy theatre, with a narrow stage. The pit was crowded with people of the lowest class; chiefly costergirls and lads, in their working clothes. There was no drinking nor smoking, as in the grander Music Halls; both, indeed, were forbidden. Rough as they looked, the audience were quiet and well- behaved; and two policemen kept strict order. When I entered, a man and a lad were on the stage, drest in tights as acrobats, and performing in a humbler fashion and on one trapeze hung low, feats such as I had just seen. The lad seemed to be about ten years old; a sturdy well knit little fellow, with broad shoulders, and a round plump smiling face, and curly hair parted on one side. He showed both pluck and skill; he climbed the rope, and hung from the trapeze by one hand or one foot, and sat astride his master's shoulder, and let himself be tossed and tumbled about, as the manner of street acrobats is with their young ones. There was nothing weak or feminine about the boy; but remembering how many female acrobats there are just now, I asked a girl who stood next me in the crowd-a shabbily drest but decent workgirl-whether the young performer were a boy or a girl. 'It's a girl, Sir!' she answered, briskly; and added 'She's only been at it three weeks, besides 8 days, that she practised at home.' 'Who is she?' 'Well, they call her The little Azella; but her name's Betsy Asher, and she's a Jewess, & only nine years old.' 'You know her, then?' 'She's my little sister, Sir', said the girl, proudly...

Arthur Munby, Diary, 7 September 1868