The Players' preview
Cabaret obsessive Dusty Limits looks at London's oldest surviving music hall troupe, the Players'
One of my mother’s few serious habits – apart from Church and mixing prescription medication with gin – was watching ‘The Good Old Days’. Every week she tuned in to enjoy a jolly, rollicking trip down the lanes of somewhat-addled memory. This programme, the longest-running light-entertainment show in the history of television, evoked the lost glory days of the music hall, that most British of theatrical institutions; and was inspired by the Players’ Theatre, which made regular appearances on the show.
Dominic Le Foe, its current ‘chairman’ – a role which combines that of MC with a gavel-wielding guardian of order – explains that the Players’ Theatre Club was acquired in 1936 by two young chums called Ridgeway and Sachs in what had been Evans’s Late Joy’s (the venue had formerly been named Joy’s), one of the original Victorian music halls. The pair presented new plays, as well as hosting evenings at which West End performers whose shows had come down could indulge in a late-night carouse around a Joanna of one description or another.
In 1937, searching for a Christmas attraction, the pals decided to recreate a night at the legendary hotel and came up with ‘Ridgeway’s Late Joys’, their first evening of genuine Victorian music hall. It was a hit with critics and audiences, which included such luminaries as Ivor Novello and Noel Coward, and convinced them that this was where the club’s sparkling future lay. The Players’ quickly became an institution, patronised by all levels of society and boasting among its alumni some remarkable artistes. ‘Peter Ustinov made his debut with us,’ says Le Foe. ‘So did Hattie Jacques. ‘The Boyfriend’, featuring a young Julie Andrews, was a commission of ours.’
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