Marie Lloyd Stole My Life: Southgate Road starlet wrests stolen song back from beyond the grave
- Credit: Archant
A star performer from Southgate Road will finally spring forward from her better known rival’s shadow in a feminist revision of history next month – more than a century after she died.
Victorian music hall singer Nelly Power was bested by her younger competitor Marie Lloyd in looks and fame while alive - and even in death, it's reported 3,000 people attended Nelly's 1887 funeral in Abney Park, whereas 4,000 mourners flocked to Marie's coffin in 1922. Marie even got divorced more times than Nelly.
But now an actress and Clerkenwell and Islington tour guide wants to posthumously set the record straight, with her one-woman show Marie Lloyd Stole My Life due to start touring theatres in July.
"Marie Lloyd got big by stealing someone else's song," Charlotte Walker told the Gazette.
"She was 15 and singing Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery, which was a big hit for Nelly, but Marie was a bit prettier. A star was born and Nelly didn't get over that, tragically."
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Nelly was, in her own right, a celebrated music hall, burlesque and panto hall performer - and she was honoured with a blue plaque at her former 97 Southgate Road address in 2017.
But she was eclipsed by Marie Lloyd, who became associated with her most famous song and became known as "Queen of the music hall".
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"Everything she did Marie did bigger and better," added Charlotte.
But she explained the Blue Fire Theatre Company focuses its pieces on the people history forgot or, in the case of Nelly, overlooked.
A previous performance focused on Will Kempe, Shakespeare's clown - casting him in the leading role.
"We do like an underdog," Charlotte added. "But the more I read about her the more I liked her - she was no shrinking violet.
"I have a really young writer who is doing it from a feminist perspective. At the time the suffragettes were saying: 'What's for women?' and Nelly was building up a property portfolio from being in theatre, which was one of the few areas where women could be independent.
"But she had terrible taste in men and when she was divorced she got a court against her husband, and he had one for her too. She gave as good as she got and beat her husband up."
It was this "plucky spirit" that helped Nelly swim out and save someone from drowning in the sea off South End, Charlotte added.
Nelly married Israel Barnett in 1874, and it's said he stole her jewellery.
"She toured internationally and had so many jewels," Charlotte said.
"When they were stolen, in today's terms they would be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds."
Nelly was eight years old when she first appeared in the panto Hop of my Thumb, and three years later she'd become one of the top music hall performers in the country.
But Charlotte reckons most of Nelly's songs "were really boring", so instead she's performing a selection of the period's best music hall hits in her show. They include one Nelly hit, though - La Dih Dah - and a tune of Marie Lloyd's.
It goes without saying the disputed Boy I Love melody also gets belted out.
Charlotte, who commissioned her own play, was drawn to the subject matter by Nelly's compelling character and "spirit".
"She got knocked down and just kept coming back," Charlotte said.
"She was up until the day she died and never gave up. She was discovered when she was eight and had 20-odd years totally working her socks off.
"I was a hard life if you think of what they did.
"It wasn't like stars today who just turn up, chauffeur-driven, then go home to a luxury hotel.
"You had 30 seconds to win over 3,000 people in an audience and, if you didn't, they weren't very kind.
"It was tough and you needed a lot of stamina - it's why I think they all got so ill."
She was living at a house in Essex Road when she died of pleurisy, aged 32.
Charlotte will be in character as Nelly taking punters on tours through Islington's music hall heritage next month.
This will include a stop at the old Collins Music Hall, off Islington Green, which is now a Waterstones.
The actress will then be debuting her solo stage show at Winchester's Chesil Theatre on July 26, before heading to Twickenham's Mary Wallace Theatre for July 27, and then on to seven performances at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.