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#186 Marc Almond at Wilton’s Music Hall

March 23, 2011

Wilton's is the perfect setting for the kind of theatrical Victoriana that London loves at the moment.

There’s nothing like the East End for London mythology. The docks, the Ripper, the influx of immigrants from Huguenot weavers, to Jewish tailors, to Muslim restaurateurs. The chapel that became a synagogue that became a mosque; it’s an old London story that’s been told a thousand times now.

And then there are the music halls. Born from pubs, and differing from theatres in that you could eat and drink (and therefore throw a bottle at the stage) while watching a show, they were never exclusively an East-end – or even a London – affair. They were hot shit in the 1870s, old hat in the 1930s, and stone dead by the 1960s. But their last ghost still lingers around Cable Street, in the form of Wilton’s, a music hall that, despite being one of the oldest in London, somehow managed to never get torn down or redeveloped. In this context, it’s hardly surprising that Wilton’s Music Hall still exists. If it didn’t, we’d have to reconstruct it, as an expensive, actor-filled, plastic Victorian ‘experience’, or some well-meaning US philanthropist’s attempts to recreate a forgotten past. But that’s not what happened. Wilton’s is still the real thing.

The downstairs Mahogany Bar still has some kind of dilapidated Ripper-iffic east-end charm.

It’s a good-looking wreck of a building, with just enough structural integrity to be used as a venue. It needs doing up, to the tune of £4 million – a doddering old lady who’s getting on just fine, thank you very much. The outer rooms are the perfect setting for a lounge bar that wouldn’t look out of place in an adaptation of Oliver Twist. The main hall is ringed by a single balcony, and looks one extended drum solo away from crumbling apart. Nevertheless, the space still has the wrought-iron arches and plaster pilasters of its music-hall years, and the greying, mouldering condition only adds to its shabby, secretive charm.

A glimpse of a pre-Almond main hall stage. Is this how it would have looked 150 years ago? Minus the mould?

Who better to see here than a still-singing star whose popularity hit its peak a generation ago? Not that you’d know; Marc Almond looked agreeably demonic, and didn’t appear to have aged a moment since his 80s heyday. With the help of piano and harp, he crooned his way through a whole lot of new material – and he knew how to work the stage too, sometimes descending into the crowd to sing, sans microphone. The venue was so small and close-packed – the upper balcony huddled you round the stage like anxious parents – that you could hear every word.

We’re going to return to Wilton’s fairly soon for an all-male production of Gilber and Sullivan’s Iolanthe* – which should be interesting, to say the least. More Victorian nonsense then. How’s that for an antidote to the Westfield?

*To watch, obviously, not sing. Otherwise it wouldn’t be all-male, would it?

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 2:49 am

    I note that there are going to be a variety of events at this venue to celebrate the 75th anniversary of ‘The Battle of Cable Street’ ( I might try to get down there for some of that.

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