Little Lily Harley

The Rude Mechanical Theatre Company
Little Lily Harley at The Cricket Field, Hadlow Down, East Sussex, Saturday 7th August at 7.30pm

‘Little Lily Harley’ is about Charlie Chaplin’s childhood in Lambeth. With a drunken but charismatic actor father who was rarely around & a beautiful young actress of a mother who had three children by different fathers, he had to learn along-side his big brother Sydney how to survive a very precarious existence. Sometimes fostered by other people, sometimes in a school for destitute children, sometimes separated from Sydney & sometimes living on the street (as a child!) he nevertheless managed to triumph over all this to become arguably the greatest film actor ever. Pete Talbot, the director, says, “When I wrote the play in 2019, I could not have known how apt it would be for today. The message of hope, triumph over pain, through the imagination and laughter, is really important for today.”

Adults (18 to 64) £19.00, Seniors (65+ & retired) £18.00, Students (18+ & in full time education) £13.00, Children (7 to 17) £10.00 & Families (any two adults or seniors & two children) £45.00.
Important: Visit the Rude’s Web Site to book and read full details of arrangements including Covid restrictions etc.
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From living on the streets of Lambeth and in a home for destitute children, he rose above appalling adversity to become arguably the greatest film star ever. How is that possible? ‘Little Lily Harley’ is the extraordinary story of Charlie Chaplin’s childhood and how he made comedy out of tragedy, and was transformed from an illiterate ragamuffin into an extraordinary actor, brimming with physical energy, charm, and beautiful, almost balletic movement. He transformed silent films from mere documentary & at best crude Vaudeville into a new art form – and he did it in black & white. Beauty is so often about colours, but it was by not having colour, by allowing people to see colour through the imagination when it wasn’t there, that he succeeded. This he learnt in a childhood deprived of colour, except what he found in his imagination, & the play in particular explores that concept.

  • Of course, he wasn’t the only one. His fellow actor & immigrant to America, Stan Laurel, contributed, along with the wonderful & equally beautiful Buster Keaton, & others. But Charlie lead the way. His secret was in making beauty & colour out of adversity & this he learnt through the tragic figure of his mother, Hannah Chaplin (stage name Little Lily Harley), parent of three boys by different fathers, abused by men, contracting syphilis while still a teenager, and gradually going mad as the brutal music hall industry, and a society dominated by men who saw female actors often as ‘fair game’, gradually broke her apart.
  • Yet, through it all she showed Charlie & his brother Sydney how to go through the ‘little door’ into their imagination where they could see even the distant unattainable stars as silver cherries which they could leap up and pick, stuff themselves with & take as their own – and in the process laugh, smile and forget their suffering. Was Charlie undamaged by the process? No. He married four times, three wives of whom were mere girls of 15. Obsessed by his mother’s own nubile beauty, despite never being able to come to terms with her decline, no woman in his eyes could ever match her even though he sort ‘her’ all his life. It is an extraordinary story brought to life by The Rudes.

Full of music hall, poetry, playground clapping rhymes and slapstick, it will make you cry one minute and howl with laughter the next.