Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Halls by Steve Trafford

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Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Halls by Steve Trafford. Dir. Janet Whittaker. Perf. Elizabeth Mansfield, Christopher Good, Brian Miller. BBC Radio 4, 25 Aug. 1990. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 31 May 2015. BBCiPlayer

This bio-drama won Elizabeth Mansfield a Sony Award nomination for Best Actor in 1990. It tells a familiar tale of a legendary music-hall entertainer who rose from abject poverty to become one of the biggest - perhaps the biggest - star of the Edwardian era. The action is told in flashback, as the fifty-two-year-old Marie lies on her death-bed recalling the main events of her life. We learn all about her tough upbringing and her weakness for men; although she had three husbands, she seldom, if ever found true love. Maybe she wasn't cut out for it - as a fiercely independent woman performing in an overwhelmingly patriarchal world, she had to cultivate a hard exterior, one that would not crack in the face of adversity.

Like all big stars enjoying the thrill of the limelight, Marie never knew when to give up. Hence she continued to perform even when her health was not of the best; and, like all good music-hall turns, she never gave audiences less than one hundred per cent effort. Inevitably the strain took a toll on her, and she eventually died at the relatively young age of fifty-two.

The story might have been a familiar one, but Whittaker's production was enlivened by some wonderful performances of music-hall classics from Mansfield and others. Under the expert guidance of Musical Director Jack Glover, we were transported back into the world of the Edwardian music-hall, where performers interacted with their audiences to create a memorable community spirit, providing everyone with much-needed respite from the rigors of life outside the theater. It was the ability to create and sustain this spirit that made Marie Lloyd one of the true greats of her time. It is a tribute to Mansfield's magnificent impersonation that we became vividly aware of Lloyd's star quality.