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.