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Celebrating 200 years of Black Theatre history  
The Living Archive Exhibition unveiled at the London Palladium by curator Leon Robinson
André Ptaszynski, Chief Executive of the Really Useful Group; Leon Robinson; Simon Callow, beside a picture of Adelaide Hall. C. Robin Savage.

Guests including actor Simon Callow, dancer Steve Clark, and actors and theatre lovers from around the world – including Jules Walter from Antigua’s Robert Coates Theatre – yesterday crowded into the London Palladium‘s Cinderella bar to mark the launch of an exciting new exhibition.

Curated by Leon Robinson, founder of performing arts and multimedia agency Positive Steps, in conjunction with The Really Useful Group and Stage Entertainment; the Living Archive Exhibition – a fascinating display of items including photos, theatre programmes, posters and film taken from Leon’s private collection – celebrates a major missing link in British entertainment history.

The collection, a small selection of which will be showcased in the London Palladium theatre box office and foyer during the run of current show Sister Act, includes such names as the 18th century street entertainer Billy Waters – who could be found entertaining audiences outside the Adelphi Theatre – as well as the internationally acclaimed Black Victorian Shakespeare actor Ira Aldridge, who performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

The Living Archive Exhibition also honours the forgotten Black Edwardian Music Hall entertainers – including Bert Williams and George Walker, stars of In Dahomey at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1903 and bringing us up to the Queen of Happiness, Florence Mills, who starred in Dover Street to Dixie at the London Pavillion, now commonly known as The Trocadero. The exhibition also throws a spotlight on 100 years of black performers specifically connected with the London Palladium – from bringing Harlem Renaissance star Adelaide Hall back to the theatre where she made her West End debut in 1931 to the newly crowned Queen of the Palladium and star of Sister Act, Patina Miller.

Speaking at Thursday’s launch event, Simon Callow praised Leon Robinson’s collection for celebrating a rich history that is, for many young Black actors, largely unknown. “The Victorians were great hoarders…  and thanks to them we have all this theatrical history to be proud of,” Leon said.

But it was 85-year-old tap dancer Steve Clark of the famous Clark Brothers – the first lounge act to play Las Vegas’s Sands Hotel – who was the biggest hit, entertaining the crowd with stories of playing for “bad men” including Al Capone, and even demonstrating a couple of dance moves…

Posted on: 19th June 2009

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