TEXT. ROSE AT THE MUSIC-HALL From "They Walk in the City" by J. B. Priestley
Priestley, John Bointon (1894-1984) is the author of numerous novels, plays and literary essays well-known all over the world. Of his pre-war novels the most famous are "The Good Companions", "Angel Pavement", "They Walk in the City", and "Wonder Hero". His war novels "Blackout in Greatley", "Daylight on Saturday" and "Three Men in New Suits", were very popular with the readers during and after the Second World War. The daring and unusual composition of some of his plays (such as "Dangerous Corner", "Time and the Conways") is a device for revealing people's real selves hidden under conventional masks.
Priestley loves people. His favourite character is a little man, an unimportant shy person, lost in the jungle of the big city, helpless in the face of forces which he cannot combat. In the description of an elderly comic actor in the given extract you will find something of the sad tenderness and compassion characteristic of Priestley's attitude towards "little men".
When they arrived at the music-hall, the doors for the second house were just opening, and they walked straight into the stalls, which were very cheap. The audience made a great deal of noise, especially in the balcony. Mrs. Burlow led the way to the front and found two very good seats for them. Rose bought a programme for twopence, gave it to Mrs. Burlow, then looked about her brightly.
It was a nice friendly little place, this music-hall, warmer and cosier and altogether more human than the picture theatres she usually attended. One thing she noticed. There were very few young people there. They were nearly all about Mrs. Burlow's age. So were the attendants. So were the members of the orchestra, who soon crept into their pit, wiping their mouths. Very few of the turns were young; they themselves, their creased and fading scenery, their worn properties, their jokes and many of their songs were getting on in years. And the loudest applause always came when a performer said he would imitate "our dear old favourite" So-and-so, and named a music-hall star that Rose had never heard of, or when a singer would tell them that the new songs were all very well in their way but that the old songs were best and he or she would "endeavour to render" one of their old favourite ditties. The result of this was that though the whole place was so cosy and friendly, it was also rather sad. Youth had fled from it. There was no bloom on anything here. Joints were stiff, eyes anxious behind the mask of paint.
One turn was an eccentric fellow with a grotesque makeup, a deadwhite face and a very red nose, and his costume was that of a ragged tramp. He made little jokes, fell over himself, and then climbed on to the back of a chair, made more little jokes and played the accordion, Rose thought him quite funny at first, but very soon changed her mind about him. She was sitting near enough to see his real face, peering anxiously through that mask. It was old, weary, desolate. And from where she sat, she could see into the wings and standing there, never taking her eyes off the performer, was an elderly woman, holding a dressing gown in one hand and a small medicine glass in the other. And then Rose wanted him to stop clowning for them, wanted the curtain to come down, so that he could put on that dressing gown, drink his medicine or whatever it is, and go away with the elderly woman, and rest and not worry any more.
But she said nothing to Mrs. Burlow, who was enjoying herself, and laughing and clapping as hard as anyone there, perhaps because she too was no longer young and was being entertained by people of her own age.