Celebrate Life On The London Stage At This Thespian Exhibition

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 19 months ago
Celebrate Life On The London Stage At This Thespian Exhibition
One of the first actresses to appear on the stage in Restoration London, Nell Gwyn provides one of the most enduring ‘rags to riches’ stories. She produced some of her best loved comic work as one half of a ‘gay couple’ (a comic routine that appeared in a number of plays form the period featuring a pair of antagonistic lovers). © London Met Archives

The likes of Charlie Chaplin and Ellen Terry will take centre stage once again in a new exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives.

Photographs, prints and documents will go on display to give an insight into the lives of London's past stars, including Shakespeare actor Edmund Kean and singer Eliza (Madam) Vestris.

After several years performing in theatres around the country, Edmund Kean was engaged – as something of a gamble - by the struggling Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1814. He made a triumphant first appearance as Shylock in the Merchant of Venice and went on to build a reputation as one of the finest tragic actors of his age. © London Met Archives

The exhibition ranges from Elizabethan theatre stars to the 20th century, and even features stories of William Shakespeare's forgotten brother, Edmund Shakespeare, who had a tragic life.

Those interested in more recent board-treaders can see Sir Laurence Olivier’s orders for bespoke boots, made by one of London’s most prestigious firms; and letters written by Carry On actor Kenneth Williams to a young fan.

Handwritten letter from actor Kenneth Williams, best known for appearing in 25 Carry On films, to a young fan, who asked his advice about how he dealt with school bullies. Williams’ radio and TV credits included Beyond Our Ken, Round the Horne, Hancock’s Half Hour, Just a Minute, Jackanory, and Willo the Wisp. He was born in Bingfield Street, Kings Cross, in 1926 and died at his flat in Osnaburgh Street in 1988.

Graham Packham, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, said:

Some surprising finds and extraordinary stories have come to light during the LMA’s research for Life On The London Stage, including how Edmund Shakespeare, of whom many of us know nothing, followed his older brother to London to work as an actor. Visitors will also learn about the houses owned by Nell Gwyn, one of London’s greatest rags-to-riches stories; how music hall star, Marie Lloyd, alarmed the authorities with her routines; and Kenneth Williams’ advice about how he dealt with school bullies.

Life on the London Stage runs from 10 July to 6 December at London Metropolitan Archives, EC1. Admission is free.

Last Updated 19 June 2017