The Visit of the Metropolitan Police Minstrels to the Princesses' Theatre (annexe), Crayford, Kent (The Munitioners' Theatre)
35mm film negative Black & White Silent c.1917 3:47
Summary: A local news item on the visit of Metropolitan Police Minstrels to Crayford.
Title number: 16
LSA ID: LSA/21
Description: This film begins with the arrival of the Metropolitan Police Minstrels waving from the top of an open top double decker omnibus as they arrive into Crayford. They stop outside the Princesses' theatre and descend via the buses rear stairs and enter the theatre building through the tearoom doors. Members of the audience are recorded queuing and entering via an entrance to the side of the building giving access to a large marquee tent, an annexe known as the Munitioners' Theatre. Outside the front of the theatre the performers are filmed in a line, with their faces blacked up for minstrelsy and wearing dinner suits with tails. A staged incident shows latecomers without tickets attempting to get access to the marquee and being fought back by attendants until the attempt is revealed as a practical joke and the latecomers to be minstrels. One of the minstrels provides a special turn for the camera dressed in western garb, with a cowboy hat and fleece chaps. The principals of one of the minstrels' acts called 'A Little Sea Affair' perform a vignette with two men, one dressed as a sea captain the other as an elegant woman, engaging in conversation before others dressed as sailors approach and make greeting. The film concludes with minstrels in various costumes walking from the marquee to the front of the theatre past onlookers.
Further information: The appearance of white men made up as black men to perform can be as shocking now as it would have been uncomment-worthy to contemporary white audiences. Minstrelsy, like the drag also seen in this film, being accepted parts of the artifice of theatrical playacting. Minstrelsy was an American import however, with racist overtones from the start and the fact that it is policemen who take on 'blackface' to perform here is uncomfortable even when seen in a less multi-cultural Britain. The Metropolitan Police Minstrels were serving police officers with performing talent and toured the country putting on shows to raise money for police related charities: the Metropolitan and City Police Orphanage, the Metropolitan and City Police Convalescent Home, and the Widows' and Relief Funds. Formed in 1872 they disbanded in 1933.
The Princesses' Theatre in Crayford opened in the July of 1916 but suffered fire damage and was partially destroyed in the December of the same year. While repair work was carried out to the main theatre, a tent was erected outside to house performances, this is the Munitioners' Theatre seen in this film. The name Munitioners' Theatre was chosen to reflect the common presence amongst audience members of staff from the munitions factory of nearby Vickers Ltd.
Keywords: Minstrels; Police; Racial prejudice; Theatre
Locations: United Kingdom; England; London; Bexley; Crayford
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