COME BACK SOON TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF MUSIC HALL.
In the meantime, for a taste of the golden age of Music Hall, see below a review of The Oxford Music Hall, taken from The Sketch 1893.
A review of THE NEW OXFORD MUSIC HALL in February 1893.
Things move swiftly nowadays in Music-Halldom, and the pulling down, last June, of the Oxford was the old first-class cis-pontine palaces of varieties.
The old hall, built in 1872, on the site of two predecessors, both burnt down, the first of them erected in 1861, was a very different affair to the gorgeous new establishment. There used to be a simple stage with gas footlights and quaint drop-scenes (one representing a very aggressive palace interior) and in front a rather brassy band – now, we believe, there is an “orchestra” and came then the stalls, covered with red velvet, and costing two shillings each. A shilling would frank you to the rest of the house, save the boxes. Beyond the stalls were humbler seats, then a gangway, a barrier, and people who merely paid a “kick” for their entertainment. All round, outside of the “kickers” were promenade and drinking bars, the most fashionable being on the O. P. side, and leading to a sanctum in which the artistes took drinks as if but creatures of common class.
Above ran a democratic gallery, with a few boxes on one side for rich folks or ladies anxious to escape notice and willing to pay for privacy as much as half a “thick ‘un.” Last and foremost used to be the chairman, who was seated at a square table in the middle, a worthy, well-coloured gentleman, who, like a challenger at a medieval tournay, took on all comers of drinks, at their expense, and consumed cigars of the fiercest to-bacchic frenzy, without ever losing control of his Thor-hammer of office and power of announcing that Miss Trois Etoiles would oblige with a song. A somewhat dingy parallelogram it was, with old-time chaste decorations, which, however, gave good entertainments, and was the birthplace of m any famous artistes. Indeed, we believe that hardly any of those who now command fame and large salaries and there who have not trodden the boards managed so long and well by Mr Jennings, and then by Mr Brighten, who at present acts for the formidable syndicate that runs three music halls.
Now we have a new building, gorgeous in decoration, and much elevated in price, which we regret. For O.P. riots seem to have a fair ground when new prices are the result of uncalled-for splendour. People are apt to say – better in a humble building at a moderate price, than the same entertainment in magnificence at a costly rate. Certainly this applied to the new restaurants, where marble and mosaics have to be paid for as part of the menu. However if prices have gone up, the entertainment has not gone down – which contradicts the usual law.
The building glitters with gold, electric blue and pale pink, the general scheme being not unlike that of the English Opera House, and though not fine in detail to the eyes of a connoisseur, is delightful to the general public; and the acoustic qualities are wonderfully good. The stage is big, the seats are large and comfortable, and there is plenty of room for movement; whilst coolness has been gained by use of the electric light. Certainly now the Oxford can hold its head up among the most gorgeous palaces of illegitimate drama.
The first night was crowded and with a genuine music hall audience, too – the very quintessence it is of the epicier class, as the French would say. In fact, very little trouble was taken about the press. The was hard, because on that one evening the journalists might have embraced almost the whole music hall world – a splendid chance for a believer in the new Queensberry rules. Miss Marie Lloyd, who has “whacky-whacky-whacked” herself on the public till she got fame, rushed up from Drury Lane to sing “Oh! Mr Porter” and “Twiggy-vous.” in the strange style that has the indescribable something which atones for deplorable defects. Miss Flo Bilton strained in her dance to point her toe as high in the world as her aristocratic sister, and sand an inane sentimental song that seemed to please the variety public. Then there was Mr. Tom Leamore whose clothes suggested that he had just met with an accident: he gave a song, and then danced as if he had laid a wager that he could shake himself in pieces in five minutes, which is a form of high art in step-dancing. Mr Charles Godfrey gave a character sketch of a Siberian exile, just set at liberty, full of a sickly sentiment that caused tears in many and laughter in the rest. Miss Fanny Leslie’s song about the crinoline, sung with prodigious zeal, made a hit, and – and – and one cannot attempt the task of keeping a clear idea of so many popular performers. Enough to say that the crowded house was delighted, and that about half the remarkable collection is to be seen every night in the handsome, comfortable new building.