Liza of Lambeth
A musical in 2 acts by William Rushton and Berny Stringle; based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Music by Cliff Adams.
Shaftesbury Theatre, London - 8 June, 1976 (110 perfs)
(Based on the novel)
The action covers a period of roughly four months—from August to November—around the time of Queen Victoria's Jubilee.
Liza Kemp is an 18-year-old factory worker and the youngest of 13 children, now living alone with her ageing and incompetent mother. Very popular with all the residents—both young and old—of Vere Street, Lambeth, she cannot really make up her mind as far as her love life is concerned. She very much likes Tom, a boy her age, but when he proposes to her she rejects him. Nevertheless she is persuaded to join a party of 32 who make a coach trip to a nearby village on the August Bank Holiday Monday.
Some of the other members of the party are Tom; Liza's friend Sally and her boyfriend Harry; and Jim Blakeston, a 40-year-old father of nine who has recently moved to Vere Street with his large family, and his wife. The outing is a lot of fun, and they all get more or less drunk on beer. On their way back, in the dark, Liza realizes that Jim Blakeston is making a pass at her by holding her hand. After their arrival back home, Jim manages to speak to her alone and to steal a kiss from her.
Seemingly without considering either the moral implications or the consequences of her actions, Liza feels attracted to Jim. They never appear together in public because they do not want the other residents of Vere Street or their workmates to start talking about them. One of Jim Blakeston's first steps to win Liza's heart is to go to a melodramatic play with her on Saturday night. Afterwards, he succeeds in seducing her. Liza is overwhelmed by love.
When autumn arrives and the nights get chillier, Liza's secret meetings with Jim become less comfortable and more trying. Lacking an indoor meeting place, they even spend their evenings together in the third class waiting room of Waterloo station. Also, to Liza's dismay, it turns out that people do start talking about them, in spite of the precautions they have taken. Only Liza's mother, who is a drunkard and a very simple sort of person, has no idea what is going on.
Liza's friend Sally gets married, has to stop working at the factory because her husband would not let his wife earn her own money, and soon becomes pregnant. Liza feels increasingly isolated, with Sally being married now and even Tom seemingly shunning her, but her love for Jim keeps her going. They do talk about their love affair though: about the possibility of Jim leaving his wife and children, about Liza not being able to leave her mother because the latter needs her help, about living somewhere else "as if we was married.
Soon after their wedding Harry beats up Sally just because she has been away from home chatting with a female neighbour of theirs. What is more, he even hits Mrs Cooper, his mother-in-law. Liza, who happens to drop by and stays a little longer to comfort Sally is late for her meeting with Jim in front of a nearby pub. When she finally gets there Jim himself is aggressive towards her for being late. Without really intending to, he hits her across the face. The following morning she has a black eye.
Soon the situation deteriorates completely. Mrs Blakeston, who is pregnant again, stops talking to her husband at home—this is her way of opposing his affair with Liza. Then she goes on indirectly to threaten Liza: She tells other people what she would do to Liza if she got hold of her, and the other people tell Liza. Liza is frightened because Mrs Blakeston is strong whereas she herself is weak.
One Saturday afternoon in November, when Liza is going home from work, she is confronted with an angry Mrs Blakeston. In the ensuing fight between the two women, Mrs Blakeston first spits in Liza's face and then attacks her physically. Quickly a group of spectators gather round the two women—none of them even tries to separate the fighting women. Eventually, both Tom and Jim stop the fight, and Tom walks Liza home. Liza is now publicly stigmatized as a "wrong one", a fact she herself admits to Tom. Despite all her misbehaviour Tom still wants to marry Liza, but she tells him that "it's too lite now" because she thinks she is pregnant. Tom would even tolerate her condition if only she could decide to marry him, but she refuses again.
Meanwhile, at the Blakestones', Jim beats up his wife. Again people nearby—this time those who live in the same house and who are alarmed by Polly Blakeston—choose not to interfere in other people's domestic problems.
When Mrs Kemp comes home and sees her daughter's injuries all she can contribute to mitigating the situation is to offer her daughter some alcohol. In the course of the evening they both get drunk, in spite of Liza's pregnancy. During the following night, however, Liza has a miscarriage. Mr Hodges, who lives upstairs, fetches a doctor from the nearby hospital, who soon pronounces the hopelessness of Liza's condition. While her daughter is dying, Mrs Kemp has a long talk with Mrs Hodges, a midwife and sick-nurse.
Liza's last visitor is Jim, but Liza is already in a coma. Mrs Kemp and Mrs Hodges have switched the subject and are talking about the funeral arrangements when Liza's death rattle can be heard and the doctor, who is still present, declares that she is dead.
(in order of appearance)
- Husbands - Mrs Hodge, Mrs Downes, Mrs Avery, Mrs Hawkins, Mrs Webster, Mrs Adair Liza, Tom
- Gawd Bless Yer -Mr Hodge, Mr Downes, Harry Adair, Billy Williams, Lenny Vosper
- I've Got A Talent - Mr Hodge
- I Come Down From Wigan - Mr Downes
- Liza of Lambeth's Mum - Harry Adair and Company
- Liza Ballet - Liza and Sally
- Prince Of Wales - Mr Hodge and Alf Downes
- Is This All - Liza
- Watch It - Mr Hodge
- Red Jollop - Mrs Kemp and The Women of Vere Street
- Good Bad Time - Tom and Arthur Smith
- Who In His Right Mind - Fingers Phillips
- Going Down To Chingford On a Chara - The Company
- Tricky Finish - Harry Adatr and Company
- Whatever Happens to a Man - Jim Blakeston
- Beautiful Colours - Liza
- What's The Use Of Killing Yourself - Mr Hodge
- Gilbert And Sullivan - Osric Bensoon, Barrington Brown, Nathaniel Novello, Archibald Lupino, Constance
- Carmichael, Maudie Metz
- Why Can't We Choose - Liza
- I Know I Shouldn't Like It - Sally
- Between Ourselves - Liza and Jim Blakeston
- A Little Bit On The Side - Company
- Liza (reprise) - Tom
Original London Cast Album - Thames THA 100