A particular form of variety entertainment, “Music Hall” is the name given to both the show itself, and the venue in which it takes place. British music hall is similar to American vaudeville, involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and specialty acts, overseen by Mr. Chairman in a venue where the beer and wine flow.
The establishment often regarded as the first true music hall was the Canterbury, 143 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, built by Charles Morton, afterwards dubbed “the Father of the Halls”. This was on the site of a skittle alley next to his pub, the Canterbury Tavern. It opened on May 17,1852 – described as “the most significant date in all the history of music hall”. The 1852 hall looked like most contemporary pub concert rooms, but its replacement in 1854 was of then unprecedented size. It was further extended in 1859, later rebuilt as a variety theatre, and finally destroyed by bombing in 1942. Another early music hall was The Middlesex, Drury Lane (1851). Popularly known as the “Old Mo,” it was built up on the site of the Mogul Saloon. Later converted into a theatre it was demolished in 1965. The New London Theatre stands on its site. In the East End of London a number of music halls were built, including the “London Music Hall,” which later became the “Shoredich Empire” and survived until 1935.
With the construction of the music halls came a new era of “variety theatre” in England, but the advent of World War I is considered by many to have been the high-water mark of music hall popularity. Music hall artists and composers threw themselves into rallying public support and enthusiasm for the war effort. Patriotic music hall compositions like Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack up Your Troubles, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, and We Don’t Want to Lose You (But We Think You Ought to Go), were sung both by audiences at home and the soldiers in the trenches. Possibly the most notorious of music hall songs from World War I was Oh! It’s a Lovely War, popularised by male impersonator Ella Shields.
Music hall continued in the inter war period, but no longer as the single dominant form of popular entertainment in Britain with the arrival of radio and the gramophone. Music Hall now had to compete with jazz, swing and big band dance music, as well as with cinema.
A significant blow came when Moss Empires, the largest British music hall chain, closed the majority of its theatres in 1960. Although an era was coming to an end, music hall had given eternal fame to such major stars as George Formby, Gracie Fields, Max Miller, and Flanagan and Allen.
The BRITISH PLAYERS annual production of Music Hall transports you back in time to an era when theatre ruled as the entertainment choice of the working and middle classes in Britain. Each year our show features a selection of the most popular songs that defined the era, together with soloists and comedy acts that bring back to life the humour that inspired a nation and kept morale alive through two world wars. Every music hall cast comprises featured soloists, the Edwardians (chorus), and the Bow Bells (dancers), all kept in line by Mr Chairman.
Audience members experience not only the entertainment, but also the ambience that traditionally accompanied Music Hall shows. We make every effort to transform our venue into an Old Time British Music Hall, with the audience seated at tables, with beer, wine, and snacks (included in the price of your ticket) provided by our lovely wenches in traditional costume.
It’s no wonder that our Music Hall tradition has lived strong in Washington for over 50 years, and continues to attract both a loyal following and also many newcomers every year. Whichever category you fall into, we hope to see you at our show soon, and we hope you have a wonderful experience.