THE GOLDEN AGE OF BRITISH THEATRE (1880-1920)
by Sydney Higgins
Her grandfather, William Edward Love, had been a ventriloquist and her mother an actress. Mabel, who was the second of three daughters, made her stage debut at the age of twelve, on December 23, 1886 at the Prince of Wale's Theatre playing The Rose in the very first stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It was billed as ‘A Dream Play for Children’. In March, 1887, she played one of the triplet children in Masks and Faces at the Opera Comique. Later that year, she appeared in the Christmas pantomime at Covent Garden.
It was the following October that she first attracted the level of public interest that was rapidly to make her one of the most adored and feted stage stars of the period. Still only 14, she became a member of Mr. George Edwardes's Burlesque Company at the Gaiety Theatre and was given the dancing role of Totchen, the little Vivandiere (‘camp follower’), in Faust Up To Date (1888-9). The men-about-town flocked to watch her performances.
Presumably, all the attention became too much for her. In March 1889, under the headline ‘Disappearance of a Burlesque Actress’, The Star reported that, after leaving the theatre, she had disappeared, adding: ‘She was wearing, when she left home, a black and white skirt, Oxford patent shoes, black plush hat and feathers, and a terra cotta coloured cloak trimmed with white fur round the collar and cuffs and with large metal buttons.’ After she had returned home, it was reported that she had gone to the Thames Embankment, considering suicide.
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As always in such cases, the publicity only increased the public's interest in her. For the next 30 years, she appeared almost without a pause in a succession of burlesques, pantomimes and musical comedies. Among her impotent successes were: playing Francoise in La Cigale that opened at the Lyric Theatre in October 1890 and ran for fourteen months; appearing in the all-star pantomime at Drury Lane, 1892 with Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno; starring as Pepita in Caryll's Little Christopher Columbus that opened at the Lyric on October 10, 1893, and ran for 279 performances; and appearing in the Follies Bergere in Paris.
On August 28, 1897, The Era reported:
Miss Mable Love, the popular actress and dancer, has returned to work after three weeks' holiday at the seaside - one week at Brighton and two at Margate. Miss Love well earned her holiday, as it was the first she had taken for three years. On Monday she will appear at the Countess de Candale, in A Marriage of Convenience, at the Queen's Opera House, Crouch-end, [London], with Mr Lewis Waller and Miss Florence West in the cast. This will be the first occasion on which Miss Love has appeared in a play which does not provide her with either song or dance. The company will afterwards proceed on its provincial tour.
In the autumn of 1912, she played Violet Robinson in Man and Superman (1912) during her only Broadway appearance. The play ran for 32 performances at the Hudson Theatre.
Mabel Love retired from the stage in 1918. In June, 1926, The Dancing Times reported that she had opened a dancing school in Knightsbridge. She returned only once to the stage - in May, 1938, when she played Mary Goss in Profit and Loss at the Embassy Theatre. After this, she went to live in a hotel in Weybridge, Surrey, where she resided for the next 15 years until her death.
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