Tell Me Pretty Maiden (1930)

Recently I received an email from a reader who had searched Youtube for film footage of child theatre troupes. As far as I know, there is no film footage of the child theatre troupes of the Edwardian era but this clip from the 1930 film ‘Florodora‘ gives you an idea of the sort of musical numbers that the children performed. ‘Tell Me Pretty Maiden’ was one of the hit numbers from the 1899 musical which went on to become one of the most popular musicals of the Edwardian period. In India Dark there’s a scene where Poesy Swift, the narrator, describes the thrill of performing the song on stage in Singapore.

The children from Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company who performed the number were aged between 7 and 17. There were eight boys in the troupe between the ages of 10 and 14 so it’s likely that the girls who were of similar age were partnered with them for the number. The children had a huge repertoire of songs and were, to all accounts, no less competent than adult performers, though shorter, cuter and with higher pitched voices. Part of the appeal of Lilliputian companies (and there were many Lilliputian troupes) was the ‘mini-me’ attraction. Watching little people mimic adult behaviour is an ancient and slightly dubious aspect of performing arts that has fallen from fashion, but hasn’t completely disappeared.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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