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Who were you, Ching Lau Lauro?

Hidden in provincial theatre footnotes

From the first limelight of Herne Bay,

To perhaps as far as John O Groats!

A young traveller, deep in disguise

Imitating Oriental eyes and dress

Leaving us all to guess about your birth,

Your private life and sudden early death.

Practiced sleight of hand so cruelly snatched

From a contortionist, whose bone cracking

Regularity could have caused chronic pain

Yet again and again you travelled the boards

To make the hoards gasp and clasp their hands

Across their face in horror or disbelief, only to sigh

In grateful relief when you unfolded yourself

And became a man again. the same as them.

You should have stuck to your usual tricks.

Those amazing feats you were so good at!

Magician, Juggler, Gymnast, Ventriloquist,

And, of course, that magic broomstick act.

Your turn at panto left the audience cold,

Too bold a departure from what they loved

The critics trashed it in the local news, and

I quote: “No viler tissue of nonsensical stuff.”

Is there still a glare of your youthful rage

On that lonely ghost lit, Norwich stage?

Do you still play there, night after night

Hoping to get that one bad review right?

Ching Lau Lauro was the stage name of a magician and entertainer (1806?-1840). His real identity remains a mystery.

However he does have a page on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ching_Lau_Lauro

In 1828 at Theatre Royal, Norwich, he received his only negative review for his debut role in the pantomime, Harlequinade; the Man in the Moon from the Norfolk Chronicle. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_Royal,_Norwich

Written for Norwich Theatre Royal’s poetry competition: Ghost Light. Unfortunately I can’t enter it as it is not one of the categories – I just liked the phrase, Ghost Light, and the superstitions behind it.