You may be familiar with accessing books, archive collections, or microfilms at the British Library, but it can be daunting to look for and order play manuscripts if you haven't done so previously.
The staff in the Manuscripts reading room are really helpful, but I thought a users guide for any first-time researchers wanting to look in the Lord Chamberlain's Plays Collection might be useful so that you know what to expect and ask for. So here we go:
In April 2022 I was in the University of Bristol Theatre Collection researching the London cabaret scene of the early to mid twentieth century when I saw this face peeking out at me from an open folder of programmes and cuttings. I was immediately intrigued! The full picture was, I assumed, a publicity shot for a cabaret act, a play, or perhaps even a film.
Another curio from the Lord Chamberlain's Plays Collection - a sketch performed at the Lewisham Hippodrome in April 1913 and set at an unnamed London Underground station, in which the Devil (later revealed to be a medical student in costume as Mephistopheles) and his wife (later revealed to be a nurse in costume as a Folly) are waiting for either a tube train or an airship to take them home. About halfway through the piece the Devil brags to a Policeman that he is inciting militant suffragettes to commit violent crimes. As he is getting arrested a suffragette runs in, puts something into a handily adjacent post box that sets it on fire, shouts "Votes for Women" and runs off, pursued by the Policeman. There's a reference to the Devil's wife being a hunger-striker too. Curious!
More archive fun!
The Royal Variety Performance is taking place at the Opera House in Blackpool tonight, and was last there in December 2009. On 14th November 2009 I woke up fully clothed and viciously hungover in a hotel room in Blackpool after an epic party night celebrating the end of another leg of the Vagina Monologues UK tour (I was on the tour understudying the celebs). We'd been guests of honour at Funny Girls and then hit the dancefloor at the Flying Handbag... and I don't remember much after that! However I had a day to waste before being driven back to London and decided to blow away the headache, cobwebs and that end of tour feeling by taking a walk along the seafront. It was out of season, rainy, windy, and forbidding but I just kept walking. Through the grey air and driving rain I saw some twinkling lights from a door and the words 'Palmistry' and 'Fortune Telling' and so headed towards it to escape from the weather.
Despite the fact that I'd been working as a magician's assistant for a few years and should have known better, I decided to go for it. I was now out of work, hungover, at a loose end and the chance to get a bit of personalised positivity in that bleak city seemed worth indulging in. About a minute into the reading I began to regret it - she was pleasant but the Barnum statements kept coming and although it was interesting to watch to a certain extent it felt too impersonal to play along with. And then - she suddenly looked at my hand, and then into my eyes, and said "Are you a performer?" I felt a surge of anticipation - yes, yes! I told her that the tour had just ended and I was heading, jobless, back to London. She looked at me intensely and in that moment I felt a genuine rush of excitement - what was this strange woman in this unpromising place on this sort of nothingish day going to say? What would be the pithy nugget of truth that might change everything? Would I look back on this moment as a turning point?
This is what she said:
"Can you get me tickets to the Royal Variety Show?"
I laughed out loud - at her and at myself - and said that there might be chums working on it and I could certainly ask. Left that little seafront studio with her email address on a scrap of paper and a genuine sense of buoyancy created by my own gullibility and ridiculousness.
So that's what I thought of when I heard the show was happening in Blackpool tonight!
Readings Fourteen and Fifteen - 26th November 2020
My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins (1913)
Readers: Sarah Annakin, Bronwyn Elizabeth, Stephanie Fayerman, John Fleming, Sarah Ford, Catherine Harvey Green, Mufrida Hayes, Sioned Jones, Michelle Kelly, Sarah McCourt, Charlotte Moore, Jamie Newall, Philippa Ritchie, Maggie Saunders, Bob Sinfield, Lucy Stevens
Reading Nine - 15th October 2020
Supposing by Sewell Collins (1913)
The First Actress by Christopher St John (1911)
Readers: Sarah Annakin, Nick Dutton, Stephanie Fayerman, Maroussia Frank, John Fleming, Catherine Harvey Green, Michelle Kelly, Sajeela Kershi, Sarah McCourt, Charlotte Moore, Jamie Newall, Bobbie O'Callaghan, Philippa Ritchie, Maggie Saunders, Velma Von Bon Bon, Annie Walker, Faye Wilson
Reading Six - 8th September 2020
Her Will by Christopher St John (1914)
At the Gates by Alice Chapin (1909)
Readers: Caroline Cooke, Stephanie Fayerman, Emma Fenney, Sarah Ford, Lucy Frederick, Kathryn Martin, Charlotte Moore, Jamie Newall, Bob Sinfield, Alison Skilbeck, Lucy Stevens, Genevieve Swallow
Reading Four - 18th August 2020
The Reforming of Augustus by Irene Rutherford McLeod (1910)
In the Workhouse by Margaret Wynne Nevinson (1911)
Readers: Jemma Churchill, Caroline Cooke, Maroussia Frank, Lucy Frederick, Sajeela Kershi, Kathryn Martin, Maggie Saunders, Genevieve Swallow, Annie Walker, Sarah-Louise Young
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research