Burlesque History

Lydia Thompson

Lydia Thompson. Most of us know her as the producer of the British Blondes, but there’s so much to this woman.

Victorian-Burlesque

Born in London 1838 and sister to the actress Clara Bracy, Lydia showed passion in the performing arts before she was even 14 years old.

At 14 she left home and joined Corps de Ballet. In just one year she had progressed to have a solo part in another show Harlequin and the 3 bears. 

She performed on many stages both in Britain and in Europe, including the world famous Globe Theatre. Later she became the lead in a show called Burlesques in London.

shakespeares-globe-theatre-image

in 1868 she married and headed to America, there she had a troupe of girls adapting English burlesque so it was suitable for a middle-class American audience. It worked! Her first show Ixion was a huge success. It had wit, parody, song, dance, cross dressing and risque jokes.

IxionprogUS

As for the British Blondes, their initial 6 month tour turned into a 6 year tour! They were the most popular form of entertainment in New York during the 1868 – 1869 theatrical season. Burlesque was popular in Britain but America adored it, they’d never seen a troupe of blonde bombshells showing so much leg (although covered by tights) sensational!

Burlesque shows in Britain were commonly referred to as ‘leg shows’ and started off very tame, sophisticated and clever as many are today. (…Okay, maybe not the tame bit!) Women loved being in the audience.

british-blondes_OP

Everything was going so well, until one day in 1869. The New York press started ‘Anti Burlesque Hysteria‘ which scared away most of the middle-class punters.

The shows were described as ‘Disgraceful spectacle of padded legs jiggling and wriggling in the insensate follies and indecencies of the hour.’

The Times called her show ‘An idiotic parody of masculinity.’

Even New York Times published an article with the headline ‘Exit British Burlesque.’

LydiaBluebeard

The troupe returned to England in 1874 and Lydia continued her passion for the theatre. In her production of H.B Farnie’s Burlesques of Bluebeard (which was already a huge hit in the states) she received this heartwarming review from  Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News:

“the acting of Miss Lydia Thompson not even the most fastidious can find fault. Her chic amuses, her abandon bewitches, her personal charms delight and indeed, in all she does, whether speaking, singing or dancing she exercises over her audiences an influence which is perfectly irresistible, taking by storm the hearts of all who see and hear her.”

The author even called her the saviour of the once-dying art form of burlesque.

“The name of Miss Lydia Thompson has acted as a spell and has charmed the apparently dead back to life.”

In 1876 her husband purchased the Folly Theatre and it became a burlesque house.

Lydia returned to America on several occasions and found herself to be popular.

thompson-lydia-image

Lydia Thompson died in November 1908 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

 

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The images above are not my own and have all been sourced from google images.

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