Review: The Little Bit The Boys Admire: The Marie Lloyd Story, by John Mangan, Broad Horizons Theatre Company, Lowestoft Seagull Theatre and on tour

Cheers, a scene from The Little Bit The Boys Admire: The Marie Lloyd Story at the Seagull Theatre, L

Cheers, a scene from The Little Bit The Boys Admire: The Marie Lloyd Story at the Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft - Credit: Archant

Broad Horizons present the fascinating life stories of Music Hall superstars, Marie Lloyd and Vesta Tilley in a new and entertaining play by John Mangan with songs made famous by the trail-blazing pair.

Throw Down The Bottle, a scene from The Little Bit The Boys Admire: The Marie Lloyd Story at the Sea

Throw Down The Bottle, a scene from The Little Bit The Boys Admire: The Marie Lloyd Story at the Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft - Credit: Archant

Vesta Tilley (Karen Hill), male impersonator par excellence, shares a dressing room for one last turn with the Queen of the Halls, Marie Lloyd (Judi Daykin). It’s 1922 and the great days of the Halls are over. Vesta can take or leave it, but Marie is still hanging on, partly out of necessity as she’s squandered a fortune over the years on men, a lavish lifestyle and soft hearted generosity. But also out of her need to perform for her audience. She is, after all, “Our Marie.”

John Mangan’s excellent writing is both funny and emotionally raw. He gives these two characters a voice that stretches back through time, yet their sacrifices, heartbreaks, drive and determination to succeed as women in a world made by men feels fresh and resonant. Not a simple ‘biography’ piece, it is a credit to the writing that the narrative feels reflexive and affecting when characters play the parts in each other’s lives. Marie at 52, playing her young self, becomes symbolic of a star literally fading before our eyes. Vesta’s role playing of the men in Marie’s life is as knowing and nuanced as her transgressive ‘masher’ stage act must have been. Marie’s famous WW1 number “Now you’ve got your Khaki on” is given particular poignancy as she dresses Vesta in a soldier uniform and they sing it together.

This two hander is well cast and both Karen Hill and Judi Daykin give performances with strongly defined characterisations. However I feel, with this performance being only the second night of the tour, they have yet to get into their stride. Energy and focus was inconsistent and there were several moments where lines seemed to be unsteady. Also the performance of many of the songs, though well sung, could have benefited from being much bigger and bolder punctuations in the show to heighten contrast with the back stage ‘reality.’

Gone but never forgotten, this production tells a great story and does these two amazing women proud. And, being a such a big fan of the Halls, I hope to catch a ‘Second House’ when it comes back this way later in next month.

Jackie Montague

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