We have more than likely at some point in our lives, heard of music hall star Marie Lloyd. But have you ever heard of her contemporary Nelly Power? After this year, you certainly will know her name because of Marie Lloyd Stole My Life.
The ideal combination of subtle comedy, song, friendliness and sensitivity
It should be pointed out from the start that not much is documented about Nelly Power generally. However, due to the persistant research and tenacity of writer J.J Leppink, director Ed Barrett, performer Lottie Walker and pianist James Hall, what we saw was not just a celebration of Music Hall as a genre. It was an intriguing insight into someone who had been overshadowed by Lloyd's celebrity status, as well as a raw, honest take on life and the world of theatre. What we know for sure about Power is that she rescued someone from drowning, escaped an abusive marriage and won her divorce case (very rare for a women in those times to come out on top), became well known for the songs Don't Dilly Dally On The Way and the song that Lloyd stole from her; The Boy In The Gallery and died in poverty. She also had an upbringing that made her appreciate theatre and performing, as well as a mother who came across as someone who liked to interfere in Power's life.
Putting these pieces together can be tricky, but Bluefire Theatre Company's intricate way of creating a show, showcasing what potentially could have happened in Power's life really drew the audience in not just via the writing, but by a very simple set up - including a keyboard covered with burgundy velvet, a table covered with the same material and very simple props such as playing cards, a book and more. This combined with an authentic costume that Power herself would have worn in female form when not in drag for pantomimes made us engaged with her story.
In places it seemed rushed with some of the lines, but it was pointed out during the show that normally the full length performance has what may have happened during a set of Power's. Due to another show in the theatre, this had to be trimmed down and only got a small section of that Power song book at the end, which explains why it felt rushed at times. It would be interesting to see Marie Lloyd Stole My Life in its entirety to really capture the full picture of this incredible woman so sensitively portrayed by Lottie Walker. She played with the concept of breaking of the fourth wall to the extent that when she shared life and theatre advice with the young girl who came to see her, it felt like the audience became the young girl receiving this honest, down to earth reality about men, sexuality and who to trust in entertainment.
Walker combined with the musical talent of James Hall brought the ideal combination of subtle comedy, song, friendliness and sensitivity; which in turn left us wanting more.