Sunday 20 March 2016

A Visit to a Music Hall (no.4)


By a Novice - IV.

If the reader will picture to himself a fine theatre brilliantly lighted, luxuriously fitted, magnificently decorated with crimson and gold, and crowded from roof to floor with an overflowing audience, he will have some idea of a celebrated West End Theatre of Varieties now paying over 100 per cent dividend to the shareholders. On the night of our visit the inevitable cigars were as usual in everybody's mouths, but a strange feature in the audience was the relatively large proportion of apparently respectable women as compared to their almost entire absence in Music Halls, and our puzzle increased as we speculated as to why, when and where, respectable women draw the line between West-end Music Halls and Variety Theatres, for the latter certainly carry off the palm for immoral tone, indecency, and intentional suggestiveness. Probably the very lady who recently boasted in a letter to the papers that she was very pleased for her husband to attention an occasional Music Hall, though it was, of course, an unfit place for her to accompany him to; would quite complacently imperil he own more valuable soul at a Theatre of Varieties. The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that in the eyes of society, the character of the entertainment itself is of less consequence than the character of the female portion of the audience attending it. Music Halls are reserved for the convenience of gentlemen and that special set of their feminine friends who they do not introduce to their female relations. The proportion of women is always, however, it must be remembered comparatively small; in fact, in London, the relative numbers of the sexes in places of amusement and places of worship is reversed. A further distinction is that, although the songs were of the ordinary Music Hall type, and those by no means carefully selected, the audience did not join in the choruses.

   "That's how he carries on;"

    "Don't you believe it, dear boys;
     How forward you are, I shall tell mama,
     But don't you believe it dear boys - "

and another, also addressed to men, given by the "Liquid Gem", a lady in whom impudence did duty for voice:-

    "You're artful, so are we,"
    "And the lodger will sit on the old woman's knee,
     And if you'll stand that, you'll stand anything - "

together with an equally choice piece of advice to "Get married on the hire system," will sufficiently indicate the style of song. There was a great deal of harmless fun over a cleverly managed political monologue, which drew forth howls or applause from the various sections of the audience, according as Liberals or Conservatives were hit. Beside the usual Music Hall jokes, acrobats and songs, a woman athlete performed marvels on a trapeze suspended to the roof of the lofty theatre. The exhibition was most objectionable from the element of danger and excitement introduced by the height at which the performance took place, but the immense muscular power displayed by a woman, must effectually have dispelled from the spectators any pet theories as to innate physical incapacity in the weaker, or more accurately speaking, the undeveloped sex.
     The main features of the evening were two long and very elaborate ballets, arranged by a well-known London manager, and a lady almost equally celebrated in theatrical circles. There were about eight children on, between the ages of ten and fourteen, who were mentioned as a special attraction in the programme. Some of the dresses were tolerable but the greater number violated every canon of ordinary decency and good taste; the dancing as a consequence became indecent "the display suggestive, and the personal attractions of the performers, "exploited for vulgar purposes and worse." Some of the most beautiful flowers were pressed into the service of this essentially unbeautiful exhibition; but robbed by the human beings who impersonated them of their most precious attributes, the violets of their modesty, the lilies of their purity, and the daisies of their simplicity. How decent women, with any pretensions to dignity and self respect could sit it out was more than we could comprehend, yet some of them had actually brought their young boys and girls with them! Little dreaming in their culpable thoughtlessness of the crop of tares they were thus sowing in their young impressionable minds.
    After the performance quite a crowd of men and boys waited at the stage door for the actresses and dancers as they streamed forth by scores with their painted faces, and more in the background were to be discerned in the dark corners of the shadowy back street various gentlemen on a similar errand. In front of the theatre the gaily-lit square and crowded thoroughfare swarmed with men of the better-to-do classes, and the unhappy women who exist to subserve their purposes. The road was blocked with cabs awaiting at the doors of the brilliantly illuminated cafes the pleasure-seekers as they retired from their sumptuous supper-tables. At one spot on the pavement a thicker knot of human beings was collected round one of the unhappy creatures whom the world has agreed to call unfortunates - her poor, painted, but handsome face was disfigured by a frenzy of passion, as she shrieked in piercing tones, "I'm a lady, and I won't be insulted"; and the mocking laughter of the crowd echoed with a fateful irony her impotent rage.
    The night was a dark and gusty one, and occasional heavy drops gave warning of an impending storm; but the crowds of handsomely dressed gentlemen and painted and bedizened shows of women surged on, heedless of the elements, and bent only on their unholy mission. It was as though we had see with Dante the vision of those spirits, the unhallowed victims of their own lusts, swept round and round in never-ending circles by the stormy gusts of their unchained passions.

Vigilance Record, September 1888


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