Friday, September 16, 2011

On The Bill - Part II

Though the performance dates are ten years apart and the theatres they took place in are over 285 kms apart two of those old playbills I picked up in London in 1969 have a common thread:  Mr and Mrs Tayleure.

I know very little about the Tayleures other than that the spelling of their name though unusual for our time was the common spelling of what was to become Taylor in modern times and that Mr Tayleure's first name was John.  They were a theatrical couple who sometime between 1811 and 1821 moved from Liverpool to London.  I often speculated on what had occurred during that 10 years and what had befallen them when they made the journey from the  Theatre-Royal of the provinces to the Theatre-Royal of the metropolis.  At one point I thought that perhaps Mr Tayleure's career had taken an up-turn and in that time he had moved from playing secondary parts (Weazle in The Wheel of Fortune) to lead comic roles (Bombastes Furioso in the famous burlesque of the same name) while his good lady seem to have sunk to smaller parts.  Had perhaps many children and the gin bottle taken a toll on Mrs Tayleure's performances - her star ascending while her husband's rose?

I couldn't have been more wrong - my version being more Dickensian than Regency -  recent investigation revealed the story behind the Tayleure's lives after Liverpool.

The first playbill advertises an evening's entertainment at the Theatre Royal Liverpool on July 17, 1811.  It was the "last night but one of" an engagement by John Philip Kemble, with his sister Sarah Siddons the most renowned of the theatrical family.  Though known for his Coriolanus  and other Shakespearean roles Kemble also appeared in popular comedies such as Richard Cumberland's The Wheel of Fortune (1795).  Along side Mr Kemble were my Mr and Mrs Tayleure (née Grant)  who it appears were popular favourites with Liverpool theatre-goers.

They had been married in Liverpool and started their professional life in the theatre there.  John Tayleure was tall - he was called "six feet two of melancholy" by his friends - and it was often joked that the wonder was such a tall man could be such a low comedian.  He was compared to the more famous John Liston for his portrayal of bumbling servants and comic old men.  He played many of the older actor's signature roles in Liverpool and later when he and Mrs Tayleure moved to London. His wife - I have not been able to discover her first name as the custom at the time was to list actress as Miss or Mrs only - came from an acting family and was known for her comic portrayals of old women. They also toured the provinces and a review for their appearance at the Theatre-Royal Norwich in 1806 tells us that "Mr and Mrs Tayleure are very good performers.  Mrs T. plays old women's characters in a very good style."  However in 1830 the correspondent for the Tatler - a daily journal of literature and the stage - suggests that her portrayal of Lady Handy in Speed the Plough at Drury Lane did not live up to that of Mrs Davenport who had created the part. Even then critics could never agree.

The Theatre Royal, Williamson Square, Liverpool was rebuilt on its original (1772) site in 1802 and saw the appearance of many of the great performers of the period - John Philip Kemble, Charles Kemble, Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, John Vandenhoff and my two personal favorites: Mr and Mrs Tayleure.  The Theatre was closed in 1960 to make way for a planned new "Civic Centre".  For eight years it served as a cold storage depot and was finally torn down to make way for a new street.
The move to London was not an entirely successful one for Mr Tayleure as an actor.  Despite his appearances at both the the Haymarket and Drury Lane the London public were not entirely enamored of the "Lancashire Liston" and his engagements began to dwindle.  Perhaps the key lays in the nickname - was his style? his accent? too provincial for the big city audiences?

Though the area around the Theatre Royal The Haymarket has changed since John Nash's building was opened in July of 1821 the imposing facade with its six Corinthian columns still dominate the street.  What I saw on my last visit there in 2009 was an interior that had been gloriously restored and a tradition of great acting continued with Sir Ian McKellen, Roger Rees and Ronald Pickup in Waiting for Godot.
But if one career was on the wane another was on the ascent: according to a Mrs Cornwall Barron-Wilson the Tayleure's had been "prudent in pecuniary matters and are independent of the world and their profession."  Mr Tayleure had one of the largest collections of rare prints in London, if not indeed in England, and he turned his hobby to his profit.  He opened a gallery to the west of Saint Martin-in-the Fields where the public could view and purchase pieces from his accumulation of some 50,000 old and scarce prints of the theatre and the arts. 

Though his good wife appeared several times on the playbill the evening of July 10, 1821 Mr Tayleure only played the title character in William Barnes Rhodes popular burlesque Bombastes Furioso.  This had been one of John Liston's famous role and Tayleure had played it often in the Provinces.
Mrs Tayleure continued to accept engagements into her advancing years when the part suited her and the salary were good.  I was happy to find that not the gin bottle - though that is the better story - but solid middle-class English respectability accounted for the change in her professional life.

Mrs Tayleure appeared that evening in both the main piece and in one of the after-pieces - in both playing comic servants.  Though never a great star she was seldom out of work and due to her husband's business acumen was able to pick and choose her appearances.

Perhaps there is more than a whiff of serendipity in my finding these two playbills 40 years ago in an old map and print shop just around the corner from St Martin-in-the-Fields. Not all that far from where Mr Tayleure had set up his business selling old theatrical prints - never suspecting that 200 years later the fragile record of his own theatrical career would be up for sale.

16 settembre/ September - Santa Ludmilla di Boemia

Enhanced by Zemanta


Minnie said...

Gosh, how fascinating.
Amazing what a keen eye + interest and wide sympathies can find.

Anonymous said...

wow i was just looking in to my family name and found this. im stephen tayleure live in kettering northans ,uk nice to try to find out a bit more where we all come from