Pianist Stephen Rose gets the show off to a flying music-hall start with some familiar ditties, which Elizabeth Mansfield’s Marie really brings to life from the off. The charming sing-along feel of the show was a much appreciated blast of nostalgia for the older folk in the audience, while the younger generations seemed to squirm at the quaintness of it, but this was all just part of the fun.
A few songs into the show, any fears that this could drag on into a sub-standard tribute act are neatly dampened when Marie curtly instructs the (by now wearing thin) pianist to ‘leave off’. At this point she speaks unaccompanied for the first time, about the more intimate details of her life offstage. With no music, a simpler costume and four parts liquor to one part soda, she starts sharing moving stories from her youth. At this point Mansfield really shows off the full range and emotional depth of her voice, beautifully echoing the sounds of her youth. Although this slightly unambitious play can begin to feel a little too feather-light at times, these moments where Marie delves into the darker sides of her life are definitely the highlight, and you can’t help but feel an occasional tug at the heart-strings.
Sheila Godbolt’s costume design sustains much of the visual element of the play. As Marie, Mansfield seems to relish the frequent onstage costume changes, and every Victorian frock is more luscious than the last, not to mention the elaborate corset and bloomers that are frequently flashed. This play also does a great job of looking back on the days when comedians weren’t permitted to discuss erections and illicit affairs onstage and had to disguise the ‘smut’ with witty euphemism and entertaining innuendo, putting a lot of the fun back into blue.
Unfortunately, the play slowly dilly-dallys to the end, and I couldn’t help feeling that just as Marie tells us about the point in her life when audiences didn’t care about her anymore, I could empathise with them. However, the inevitable sing-along encore is a winner, and if I’m honest I might even admit to having a little mutter along to the music myself. It may not be for audiences looking for hard-hitting drama about Marie Lloyd’s remarkable life, but if you want hints of this drama neatly nestled in the magic of music hall, you won’t be disappointed.