Rosemary Branch, which once hosted the likes of Marie Lloyd, to welcome back music hall – for two nights only
PUBLISHED: 11:10 18 March 2019
More than a century after the stars of music hall graced its stage, the Rosemary Branch Tavern on the Regent’s Canal is bringing it back for two special nights.
Once a hugely popular venue for the popular Victorian entertainment, the theatre bordering Hackney and Islington welcomed the likes of Hoxton’s own Marie Lloyd, who performed there in the 1880s, and, rumour has it, Charlie Chaplin.
And now it is returning, thanks to The Naughty Nineties Company, which is staging two “Good Old Days” shows over the next month.
Audiences can expect an evening of authentic music hall featuring costumes, classic songs and monologues introduced by the gavel-wielding master of ceremonies, the chairman.
Fiona Rule, a historian and member of the group, told the Gazette: “I’ll be performing, in typical music hall fashion, a range of songs and monologues in character – I’m a ghost and a costermonger!
“We’ve been doing music hall for quite a long time in various venues across London. Our mission statement is to keep music hall alive. It’s fantastic – it’s music made by the people for the people and deserves to be preserved.
“There are very few people around these days that do it.”
The original Rosemary Branch Tavern had a “pleasure garden” at the back, which staged events from musical evenings to balloon flights. The building burnt down, but a new tavern was built on the site containing a music hall.
But it seems it had a relatively short-lived existence. Its first licence was granted in 1851 and its last was 1887, as theatres began to turn towards variety performances over music hall.
Marie Lloyd, in her memoirs, mentions the theatre as giving her a stage during her early years. She wrote: “As luck would have it, a gentleman who had witnessed my discomfiture at the Grecian promptly engaged me to appear the same evening at the Rosemary Branch, Hoxton, of which he was the proprietor.
“So, with the inspiring prospect of being able to earn still another whole half-crown, I packed up my little bundle of stage clothes, slung them on my shoulder, and off I hied myself to the Rosemary Branch for all the world like some Dick Whittington in search of a fortune.
“Those days were very hard ones, but I can remember the delirious delight I felt when my one night’s engagement was extended to a whole week at the colonial salary of thirty pence an evening. I quite came to the conclusion that I had reached the zenith of fame and fortune.”
The theatre, which opened as a fringe venue in 1996, now has a Marie Lloyd Room for rehearsals as a nod to its past.
“We thought it was such a perfect venue for us when we realised it used to be a music hall,” continued Fiona.
“And it wasn’t just any music hall. It’s amazing that Marie Lloyd played there and to follow in her footsteps will be amazing.
“The theatre manager said Charlie Chaplin played there, according to local lore.”
Whether the Rosemary Branch could be hosting music hall on a regular basis again is another question, but Fiona has hopes that it could become more popular with today’s crowds.
“It’s certainly niche,” she said. “It has a very loyal following which is why we rarely have a problem selling out places. There are a lot of people around that really love it. It’s a bit like Gilbert and Sullivan in that respect.
“But there’s always a chance it could make a comeback.
“Audiences get a good old-fashioned singalong and a night full of laughs and great performances. It’s a guaranteed good night out. I think it would be really interesting to see modern stars do it.”
Tickets for The Good Old Days shows on March 22 and April 26 can be bought at rosemarybranchtheatre.co.uk.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Hackney Gazette. Click the link in the orange box below for details.