Lily Elsie as she appeared during 1903 and 1904
in A Chinese Honeymoon (first produced in London at the Strand, 5 October 1901)
as the Princess Soo Soo, a part originated by Beatrice Edwards
and also briefly played by Mabel Nelson and Kate Cutler.
CONCERNING LILY ELSIE
‘“They called me Little Elsie.”
‘“It may be supposed, then, that you commenced your professional career when quite a child?”
‘“That was so. I sang ballads. Some friends were flattering enough to call me the infant Patti,” and the beautiful Miss Lily Elsie smiled sweetly at the remembrance.
‘“And you took to the stage, I suppose, as the duck takes to water?”
‘“Well, I played in the pantomime Red Riding Hood [at the Queen’s Theatre, Manchester, Christmas 1896] when I was only eleven years of age [sic], and, subsequently, I went to the [music] halls. My first regular engagement for theatrical work was a tour of M’Kenna’s Firtation [a farce by E. Selden, first produced at the Opera House, Coventry, 1 August 1892.”
‘“A natural sequence, I see. First the flirtation, then regular ‘engagements,’ and now the honeymoon - A Chinese Honeymoon.”
‘“You may put it that way if you like,” said Miss Elsie, laughing, “but,” she added, “you must consider the other engagements in their order. I was secured by Mr. Tom B. Davis for a spring and autumn [sic] tour with The Silver Slipper [an extravaganza by Owen Hall, with music by Leslie Stuart, first produced at the Lyric, London, 1 June 1901], and with Miss Marie Dainton I appeared in pantomime at the Camden Theatre [Dick Whittington, Christmas, 1901]. Oh, by the way, I had some experience of pantomime in London, for I had already appeared at the Britannia Theatre [Hoxton, 26 December 1898] in that remarkable production called King Klondike. I was ‘Little Elsie’ then, and played the part of the fairy, Aerielle. And herby hangs a tale. One of the comedians engaged, thinking to make me his instrument for the sharpening of his wit, or rather of its exercise, put to me the question, ‘Are you a fairy?’ and whispered to me to say ‘Yes.’ The spirit of mischief prompted me to answer ‘No,’ and that comedian did not get the laugh he expected. ‘Why didn’t you say what I told you to say?’ was his angry remonstrance later; ‘I wanted to ask you if you were fair-ly well.’ I was too young, I suppose, to appreciate such verbal atrocities. Now, of course, I see their artistic importance.”
‘“You have been twice in pantomime, I believe, at the Coronet Theatre [at Notting Hill Gate]?”
‘“Yes [in The Forty Thieves, Christmas 1902, and Blue Beard, Christmas 1903], and I have fulfilled a seven weeks’ engagement in Three Little Maids [a musical play by Paul Rubens, first produced at the Apollo, London, 10 May 1902] on tour. I came here to the Strand [Theatre, London,] for A Chinese Honeymoon some twelve months ago, and I should like to say that I have never had a more pleasant engagement. The experience has been quite delightful.”
‘“May I come in, dear?” cried a voice at the door of Miss Elsie’s dressing-room, and in romped Miss Dainton, all smiles and cheeriness, to tell Miss Elsie ho to be interviewed. Miss Elsie’s mamma was already there, and when directly afterwards Miss Reynolds came along to exploit the beauties of her toy-terrier it seemed, indeed, that the Strand Theatre, in one particular part, at least, was the home of happiness. Did the interviewer protest? Not much; but he gently led the way back to business.
‘“Girls whom I know,” said Miss Elsie, “are continually asking me questions about the world of the stage, and they all want to know if it is easy to get on.”
””And you tell them?’
‘“I can only tell them of my own experiences and assure them that if a girl with a fair share of talent really makes up her mind to work earnestly and hard she may perhaps not reach the giddy height known as the top of the tree, but she may at least find that there are many comfortably and even profitable places among the lower branches. I fancy my ambition first took fire when, at the age of eight, I was taken to see Mrs. Kendal in A Scrap of Paper. I had never before been inside a theatre, and her acting so impressed me that at the big situation in the second act I stood up in the stalls and made everybody near me ‘sit up’ by saying in a loud voice, ‘There, mama, that’s what I should like to do when I’m a woman!’ Of course, there was an indignant chorus of the ‘hush’ sort, and the wonder was that I was not led out and taken home in disgrace.”
That is one of the incidents which you are not likely to forget; but as the man in the street would remark, there are others, and I should like to hear about them.”
‘“Ah,” said Miss Elsie. “I could tell you of the prosaic experiences and small discomforts in provincial touring, but of stirring adventures there are none. They happen to everybody but myself. But stay. I remember one. We were travelling on Christmas Eve to a small town in the wilds of Ireland, and relieved the tedium of the journey by telling ghost stories. Ghosts, you know, are always in season about Christmas time. From the ghost stories we went on to tales about robbers, highwaymen, and travellers murdered in their beds.”
‘“And what more comfortable place could they desire to be murdered in?”
‘“It is easy to jest and laugh now,” the pretty actress proceeded, “but then the discussion of such terrible subjects left me in so nervous a condition, that the slightest strange noise would have made me shudder, and the sight of a mouse would have set me screaming. Well, we arrived at our destination, secured rooms at a gloomy little hotel, and – my mother and myself – were shown to them by a scowling landlady and her particularly villainous-looking husband. There had been many reports of Fenian outranges, and seeing that the door had no fastening, I persuaded my mother to assist me in barricading it with part of the furniture. She laughed at my fears, and we retired to rest. In the middle of the night I was awakened, and was terrified by a loud report, which suggested the firing of a gun in the apartment immediately adjacent to that we occupied. Hurriedly lighting a candle, I was further horrified to see a thin red stream trickling from under a curtained door which I had not previously noticed. I shrieked; my mother sprang out of bed; together we wrenched open that door, and then – well, then we looked at each other and laughed. The door was that of a store cupboard. A bottle of preserved sloes had burst, and it was the juice oozing into our room that we had mistaken for human gore.”
‘“It is an easy stage from thoughts of murder to thoughts of madness, and so in view of the extended popularity of the piece in which you are now appearing with such gratifying success [A Chinese Honeymoon], let me ask you what you think of the suggestion made not very long ago by certain serious people and supported by scientific authority, that long [theatrical] runs conduce to madness?”
‘Miss Elsie laughed at the idea, and Miss Dainton put in the opinion that, although a long run like booing might be a national calamity, the longest run on record would not lose England any of her battles or cause her to run away from her enemies.
‘“I have just been reading of an aesthetic young gentleman who put an end to a long engagement because, after the banns of marriage had been published and the ring had been purchased and the home had been provided, he suddenly discovered that the lady’s complexion did not match the furniture. You will doubtless be sorry when your long engagement comes to an end?”
‘All the ladies laughed, and Miss Elsie repeated that her engagement in A Chinese Honeymoon had been one of the most delightful in her career. The “Chinese Honeymoon” indeed, seems to be passing quite felicitously in “that happy land,” whose joys are extolled in song by one of the characters.
‘“For there each woman tried to please
The folk on every hand,
A state of things one seldom sees
Outside that happy land.”
‘Among those who are most successful in pleasing is Miss Lily Elsie.’
(G. Spencer Edwards, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, London, Saturday, 28 May 1904, pp.474-475, with photographs by R.W. Thomas, 41 Cheapside, London)