Gabrielle Ray

'Gabrielle Ray said, 'I am always dancing; I love it! When I don't dance, I sing. What else is there to do?'

John East – The Stage – Thursday 30th August 1956

IN MANAGEMENT 60 YEARS AGO

By John East

 

WHEN my grandfather, John M. East, took over the Lyric, Hammersmith, as actor-manager, in 1892, it was facing bankruptcy. Within three years of his administration this pretty little bijou theatre, sandwiched between a railway siding and a street market, was being partially rebuilt at a cost of £15,000.

John East installed a resident stock company led by artists such as Leah Marlborough, Charles East and his wife, East Robertson, great favourites with local audiences. With a change of programme weekly and daily rehearsals, it was a wonderful school for youngsters, many of whom went straight to the West End after starting at the Lyric. Among the many future stars 1 could mention was 19-year-old Gabrielle Ray, whom my grandfather trained to take the title role in his “Red Riding Hood.” She soon became one of the brightest stars to reign at the Gaiety and Daly’s.

Of course, established names like Edward Terry, Harry Monkhouse, Mrs. Langtry, Henry Neville, Charles Warner, Harry Nichols and Willie Edouin played special weeks at the Lyric, and a cosmopolitan audience from distant parts of the metropolis swelled the ranks of the local patrons, who loved to see the carefully staged melodramas.

John East acted in 64 and produced over 400 plays during his 13 years at the theatre, from a battle scene in “A Life of Pleasure” to “Secrets of the Harem,” shortened to “Secrets –“ –THE BANNED PLAY, after a protest from the Turkish Ambassador to the Lord Chamberlain when he had witnessed the piece.

Once he decided to produce “Streets of London,” and in order to get a real horse-driven fire engine on to the stage, he removed the centre stalls, and a large rake was erected from the roadway to the auditorium, over which the engine made a triumphant entry. There would have been a practical use for it on Whit Monday, 1896, when a fire broke out on the stage during the action of “For England.”

Every Christmas my grandfather would produce, and usually write with Brian Daly, a pantomime, in addition to playing such parts as the Queen in “Robinson Crusoe.” Some of the large profits made went into organising charity matinees, “The Diseases of Women” lectures, and a free soup kitchen outside the theatre.

Years before, a manager would have a stock writer at his command, but by the turn of the century the public would not go in unless first class London successes were played, which meant an expensive mounting and a royalty of 10 per cent. Moreover, boiled down melodramas were being presented on the halls, which in addition to new competition from the Grand, Fulham, and the King’s, Hammersmith, caused my grandfather to leave the Lyric in March, 1904. The little theatre had a varied history until Playfair re-opened it in 1918.

After producing “The Wheat King” at the Apollo, with a magnificent third act depicting mass hysteria, John East look over the management of the vast Britannia, Hoxton, where he offered a three act drama, a variety bill, one of his own curtain-raisers, and the bio scope for 3d. in the gallery! The curious audience at the “Brit” consisted mostly of burglars, who used to come and tell my grandfather when they were gong to “do a bit” the following night.

Once a man sidled up to him and said, “What’s ‘appened to ole J. B. Howe, what played ‘ere with Charlie East in 98?  Is ‘e in the lump (workhouse)?” John replied that he had retired. “Oh. I’ve been away and missed the old codger.” Been away” – “Yus, for sticking a knive in a cove in Clerkenwell!” During the week John slept on the premises with the takings, and no wonder he had a loaded pistol by his bedside.

After a time at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, John East ran touring companies in between annual pantomime engagements, which included one at the Crown with another clever 19-year-old girl, Violet Loraine. Leah Marlborough was touring three continents alter “The Sorrows of Satan,” at the Court, East Robertson toured in such pieces as “Girl’s Cross Roads,” as Barbara Wade, and received wide acclaim as the prostitute, La Colombe, who fights to her death with knives in “Woman and Wine,” at the Princess’s, Oxford street, in 1899.

However, John East decided to become a free-lance, and devised, produced and managed the fabulous “Invasion of England” at the Crystal Palace, in 1909. With a cast of hundreds, real airships, descent of an invading army by parachute, entire destruction of a village by fire, explosions of mines and cannons, it was a triumphant success and he toured it on the Continent during 1910, for Brocks, Ltd.

 

The Stage – Thursday 30th August 1956

 

February 28, 2018 Posted by | Actress, Biography, Gabrielle Ray, Little Red Riding Hood, Social History, The Stage, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment