In October 1922 two notable events took place. On the 12th, at Hampstead Cemetery, the funeral of Marie Lloyd, star and emblem of British music hall, was attended by more mourners than any English funeral since the Duke of Wellington’s. ‘Her death […] is a significant moment in English history,’ wrote T. S. Eliot. ‘She was the greatest music-hall artist of her time […] and expressed that part of the the English nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality.’ A little over a week later, Eliot’s The Waste Land was first published in the inaugural issue of The Criterion magazine. One era seems to pass, another seems to be born.
But beyond this coincidence, there is a deep and surprising relationship between Marie Lloyd, T. S. Eliot and Eliot’s poetry. Eliot loved popular song and music-hall in particular – his brand of modernism aspired to the collaborative quality of the music-hall; his poetic imagination and ear were haunted by its rhythms and the slipperiness of its disguised meanings and double entendres. ‘People get clever and say it means all sorts of things,’ Marie Lloyd would say, of her innuendos. ‘I can’t help that, can I?’
Using many of Marie Lloyd’s greatest songs, The Waste Land and other more surprising Eliot poems, Marie, Marie, Hold on Tight! is a sort-of-musical which could really only be staged at Wilton’s. It tells the very funny and moving story of the unlikely relationship between the work of two unhappy people and great artists.
All profits went to the charity Safe Passage.