Poster advertising a benefit performance at the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties 569
Printer: Smith & Co.
The popular Canterbury Theatre of Varieties was the first of the great music halls. It staged a wide variety of acts, often with a surprisingly large number included in one evening. This colourful, rainbow-printed poster lists many well known names, including Bessie Bellwood (1847-1896), famous for her cockney humour and rousing songs, Bessie Bonehill (1855-1902) and Vesta Tilley (1864-1952), who both specialised in male impersonations.
Vesta Tilley, or Matilda Alice Powles, made her stage debut at the age of four in Nottingham. In 1878, she appeared in London as "The Great Little Tilley". She was the first, and perhaps the most successful, female artiste to wear male attire convincingly and closely mimic a true aristocrat. With such impersonations as her West End 'Burlington Bertie', Vesta Tilley became one of the outstanding stars of the British music hall. During the First World War, she helped the war effort by singing songs intended to encourage men to enlist.