It’s the old nostalgia tack once again. In the days of the variety theatre you didn’t always know want to expect, and sometimes what you got was downright odd, weird even. I don’t mean freak shows, dwarfs and so on, though most comedy bands had a little feller in them, and I discount Elroy The Armless Wonder and Tommy (Toes) Jacobson because it was remarkable what they achieved .overcoming a disability. But how would you fancy making your living tap dancing on roller skates, like Williams & Shand, or The Mistins, who zipped around on roller skates while playing their xylophones? The very popular Teddy Brown, extremely obese, was remarkably nimble playing that instrument, while Syd Plummer had an ingenious trick xylophone which had all sorts of distractions. Syd Plummer has the distinction of being the only artiste in 50 years of reviewing who has written to thank me for something I had put in a review. His son and his wife are still in the game of tunefully flashing the sticks as The Plummers. And then there was Barney Powell, seated on a high stool, who played two xylophones at once, one with his hands and the other with his feet.
More bizarre was Noberti the Human Drainpipe, no explanation needed, and the chappie who crammed himself into a smallish glass box, or perhaps Rondart, expert at blowing darts with a fair degree of accuracy.
Thi-Boult was as odd as the name. To all intents and purposes it was a couple ballroom dancing around the stage, but was revealed to be one chap bent double with two puppet-like top halves above him. Hilarity and trepidation were caused by Tarzan & Pongo, one guy dressed as Tarzan and another in a chimp’s costume running round the theatre, on the seats and the seat backs.
Bicycle acts were quite popular. There were no end of tricks which could be done on a bike, and Vic Templar used to trundle around on a tiny one hardly knee-high. Unicycles featured too, but it wasn’t enough to just ride one, however cleverly. It was the thing to juggle on one, or perhaps play a piano accordion.
After a heavy meal, watching Manley & Austin wasn’t such a good idea. The act culminated with the stoutish guy lying on his back, legs in the air while his lady partner balanced on his feet and began to play her violin. Suddenly she slipped, and landed flat on his stomach. Ouch! And they did this routine night after night.; Famously Henry Vadden & Co finished their act with him donning a military style helmet with a spike on top, then catching a large spinning cart wheel on the spike. When asked “Does it hurt?” he replied “Course it bloody does”.
The Ganjou Brothers & Juanita were very popular, sometimes topping bills. They were so skilful, with perfect timing, but I could never see the point of 4 guys in Regency costumes and powered wigs throwing a girl around on stage, however cleverly. But the act which really baffled me was The Goldwyn Trio. I saw it several times and it consisted of two girls doing artistic poses, and they were too, on a sort of pillar while a lame chap in an opera cloak limped aroud the pillar to the Barcarolle from “Tales of Hoffmann” (Hope I’ve spellled it right) Odd or what ?
A favourite of mine was old Bob Nelson in his sailor costume. He spent quite a while building up a rickety construction of furniture, mostly chairs, in the middle of the stage. That done, he carefully climbed to the top and stood there, triumphant. Standing there, he gave a toothless grim and announced, “Aren’t plums cheap?” Whereupon the whole rickety contraption collapsed under him. Surreal – but it worked.