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Women of Waterloo and Lambeth #2

In this weekly series, we are featuring prominent women in our local community, both throughout history and those shaping our world today.

We asked Lorraine Spenceley, from the Creative Curve Theatre Company, to write a set of fictional monologues which give a little insight into women's roles in Waterloo.

Lilian Baylis (c. 1925)

We launched last week with Dorothy, representing the large female workforce who at the height of WWII were employed with the task of rebuilding Waterloo Bridge. This week, we meet Lilian Baylis (1874 - 1937), a theatre manager and producer who amongst others ran the Old Vic.


written by Lorraine Spenceley

The ghost of Lilian Baylis is wandering around the Old Vic reminscening about her theatre and her life managing it. She is a slight pump elderly lady, but don’t be deceived she has great strength of character and there is the element of a frustrated actress about her.


The smell, always the smell, theatres have their own particular smell – the burning lamps, the bodies crammed closely together and of course the grease paint.From the moment, I stepped into the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern, lovingly known as the Old Vic, I knew I was home. I had been ill, you see and my parents sent me to London after the Jameson Raid, South Africa was not safe.As I said, my parents send me back to London to recuperate – cold, damp foggy London, not the best place to be for one’s health!But as soon as I smelt that particular smell I knew I was on the road to recovery and London, the theatre, the Old Vic would be my life.

Aunt Emma was inspired when she opened the Old Vic to give the working classes opportunity to experience true theatre not that vulgar music hall rubbish. (Lilian mimics her aunt Emma Cons) “a cheap and decent place of amusement on strict temperance lines".Affordable tickets for the working classes and strictly no beer. I loved watching the people enter, especially those who’ve never entered a true theatre before.The Old Vic is magical not a flea pit.Suspend your disbelief and feel the parched heat of a Verona noon, the bitter cold of a Danish graveyard, a storm swept English moor. (Lilian closes her eyes as if she is reliving these moment). Hear Shakespeare’s wonderful word.

(Lilian performs)

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”

Actors should take more note of these words! Not that any ham actors perform at the Old Vic, I simply would not have tolerated a poor performance. The Old Vic hired the best actors and actresses Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness – who would have thought he would play Obi Wan Kenobi, not his finest performance but still the children found it amusing! Peggy Ashcroft, Judith Anderson and Vivien Leigh. Vivien’s Leigh’ Titania was entrancing.

(Lilian performs)

“Out of this wood do not desire to go: Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no. I am a spirit of no common rate; The summer still doth tend upon my state;”

Dear Vivian was a spirit of “no common rate”, beautiful, too beautiful for her own good. Judith Anderson in Mac...Mac...sorry I can’t say it....the Scottish play. Darling Judith had such a malevolent presence on stage, she sent shivers down my spine. The Scottish play is supposed brings with it bad luck and it was certainly my undoing. I died while rehearsals were taking place. The smell of the grease paint, the burning lamps, the bodies crammed closely together I couldn’t bear to leave the Old Vic. It was part of me. Occasionally, I whisper to an actress about to go on: “stage fright is normal all will be well”.

As I wander from dressing room to stage, then back stage I am hearted to see the magic has grown.

(Lillian performs, as she is performing her voice becomes softer and softer until it is not audible)

"We are such stuff As dreams are made on and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”

The Old Vic (The Cut, Waterloo)

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