At the People's Company workshop on the 18th July 2017, the workshop revolved around the life story of the Victorian actress Marie Henderson.
Marie Henderson was born in the 1840s into a theatrical family and came to prominence first in Liverpool before moving to the Britannia theatre in East London. She ended her career as the actress-manageress of the Elephant and Castle Theatre from 1875-1880. She put on a programme of melodramatic plays ranging from adaptions of best-seller novels like Lady Audley's Secret to more rip-roaring plays like Faith, Hope and Charity. The working class audiences of Southwark loved to boo and cheer at heroes and heroines locked in a moral struggle of good versus evil.
The Elephant and Castle theatre burnt down in 1878 and was completely rebuilt. It was the first work of famed theatrical architect, Frank Matcham. Marie Henderson suffered ill health and the press reported that this was due to the shocking effect of the fire and losing her company's costumes which were not insured. She died in 1882 at Bedlam mental hospital and we know from her medical records that Marie was suffering from the unknown and untreatable effects of syphilis. An actress who gained critical acclaim and was adored by theatre audiences, who could recite thousands of line from hundreds of plays, was reduced to only being able to utter these lines in her final days: yes, jolly and oh dear!
During the session the People's Company made a drawing sketch based on one of the reviews of Faith, Hope and Charity. This play was first staged in 1863 at the Britannia Theatre and introduced the first use of Dr Pepper's Ghost, a holographic effect created by mirrors. Marie Henderson starred in the Liverpool version of this play staged in the same year. In the play, the character of the Widow is cheated out of her fortune and dies. She then returns as a ghost (cue mirror effect) and haunts the aristocratic villain. One of the last roles Marie Henderson ever played at the Elephant and Castle theatre was in Faith, Hope and Charity.
The ghostly presence of Marie Henderson is our guiding muse for The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle. This is a performance piece and an art exhibition.
The play will be staged at the Coronet on the 8 November 2017.
The exhibition will take place at Artworks Gallery from 11-23 November 2017
The Mercury, 21 July 1863: review of the Britannia theatre's new drama called The Widow and Orphans - Faith, Hope and Charity:
It is a domestic drama, with three murders, one suicide, two conflagrations, four robberies, one virtuous lawyer, 23 angels, and a ghost. There are three heroines in the piece, Faith, Hope and Charity - the first, an elderly lady, widow of a clergyman, and in straitened circumstances; and the other two, her daughters, pretty and poor, and of course models of perfection. The plot turns upon the possession of the lease of a house which Sir Gilbert Northlaw, a proud and scheming baronet, class representative of the bloated aristocracy, has acquired by fraud from the clerical widow. Before the parchment is restored to the right owner, a number of violent incidents take place, which, although in no perceptible connection with the story, yet seems to charm the audience to an immense degree, as evinced by frequent thundering applause. A burning house, in particular, gives rise to tremendous excitement in the gallery. The scene shows a woman getting out of the window and walking along the outer ledge to a tree where a man takes her in his arms, after which the tree, by some magic means, bows to the ground with its human burthen. Various minor accidents, murders and manslaughter, follow, till at length the lease is stolen by an honest man from the pocket of the wicked baronet. With a fine feeling of virtue, the audience show their appreciation of this act of pickpocketing by three rounds of applause. But the aristocratic villain is not yet defeated, for it turns out that the lease which the honest man has stolen is but a duplicate after all, and that the fiendish nobleman remains in possession of the original. This discovery breaks the heart of Faith and sets Hope and Charity a-crying so loud that all the bystanders get into convulsions. The question of the lease appears still as undecided as ever when the curtain falls over the terrestrial part of the drama, to open again, after a few minutes interval, for the spiritual portion. All the souls of all the people murdered, slain, burned, and bruised in the new and original drama are now carried up to heaven by a regiment of little angels, in flaxen hair and short petticoats. Midway between heaven and earth they make a halt, which allows time for the inspection of the tableau, and the due seasoning of the mind in its contemplation. It is evident that the impression created upon the audience is of the deepest, preparing all eyes and ears for the still greater things to come. There are now no more discharges of ginger-beer artillery from above and behind, the sucking of oranges and cracking of nuts have ceased entirely, and even the numerous babies have left off crying. Presently the vast house sinks into obscurity, only a few flickering gas jets being left here and there to create a faint twilight. Once again Sir Gilbert Northlaw steps on the stage, closely followed by - a skeleton. The apparition is certainly striking. It gradually and almost imperceptibly evolves itself out of the air, and after various movements vanishes with the rapidity of a flash of lightening. A second time, it comes and goes as before, and immediately after appears a female form, the exact counterpart of Faith, the widow. Closely as the eye may watch the operation of the whole proceeding, it is impossible to detect the source of the fine optical delusion. There the figure certainly stands, walks, and talks, but disappears as instantaneously as if fashioned out of the mere vapor of the air. On the second appearance of widow Faith, of rather widow Faith’s ghost, Sir Gilbert Northlaw takes courage, and rising from his seat, attacks her with a sword. But the sharp steel, aimed a a walking and speaking human figure, meets no resistance but the empty air, and the would-be murderer is mocked by a load of sardonic ha, ha, ha! This is the crisis of the spectacle. While the baronet is making desperate efforts to grasp the widow, the spectre vanishes in the twinkling of an eye, leaving the echo of a mocking voice, resounding from afar. Whatever the means by which this curious scene is effected, it is undoubtedly a most clever and wonderfully striking bit of stage effect. Those in want of a new sensation can do nothing better at the present moment that to pay a visit to the Britannia Theatre and to the “Patent Ghost.”
Oil pastel drawing made by The People's Company Ensemble and Constantine Gras
Faith, Hope and Charity illustrates Dr Pepper's ghost effect.
An actress stands in the orchestra pit, unseen by the audience and her ghostly image is projected onto the stage with the use of a mirror.
Reflecting the views of artists, actors, residents
and participants in
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle.
An art project about the Coronet from 1872-2017.
Final Curtain Call
Directing and acting
Jacko at the Coronet?
Ale and steak pies
This Is Where I Came In
Pollock's Toy Museum
Adventure with the Mayor
Reach for the stars
Ghost of Marie Henderson
Shop till the zombie drops
Faith, Hope and Charity
Singing and sketching
History and legacy
Dark Side of Metropolis
Walworth Street Festival
Interview with Sam Porter
Blood and Thunder
Culture and Capital