Elizabeth "Lily" Brayton
(June 23 1876
- April 30 1953
) was an English
actress, known for her performances in Shakespeare
plays and for her nearly 2,000 performances in the World War I
hit musical Chu Chin Chow
Brayton was born in Hindley
, the fourth daughter of a Lancashire doctor, John Grindal Brayton (1842-1892). Little is known of her early life, but her first stage performance was in Manchester
in 1896, when she was in the cast of Shakespeare
's Richard II
. She joined the Frank Benson
company, where in June 1898 she married a co-actor, Oscar Asche
. Her sister Agnes Brayton (1878–1957) was also a member of the company.
In 1900 she was chosen by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree to create the part of Mariamne in his production of Herod. In 1904 she and Asche formed their own theatrical company. In 1906 she played Iseult in Joseph Comyns Carr's play Tristram and Iseult at the Adelphi Theatre, with Matheson Lang as Tristram and Asche as King Mark. Her sister Agnes also had a part in this production. In 1907 Lily, as Katherine, and Agnes, as Bianca, appeared in the Oxford University Dramatic Society production of The Taming of the Shrew with Gervais Rentoul as Petruchio.
In 1907, Brayton became co-manager, with her husband, of His Majesty's Theatre, London, which was owned by Tree, in association with whom they managed a number of Shakespeare and other plays, including Laurence Binyon’s Attila, in which she played the part of Ildico.
In 1909-10, while Brayton and Asche were touring Australia, the Australian musician Wayne Jones composed a piece entitled "The Lily Brayton Valse". They toured Australia again in 1912-13 and also visited South Africa at the end of the tour in 1913. In 1914, she appeared as Marsinah in the silent film of the play Kismet. Several Shakespeare plays were given during these visits.
Chu Chin Chow and later years
The Asche hit musical comedy Chu Chin Chow
was staged in London in 1916. Brayton played the female lead character, Zahrat-al-Kulub. Chu Chin Chow
played until 1921, enjoying an unprecedented run of 2238 performances, of which Brayton performed in nearly 2000, an endurance feat. Brayton did not accompany Asche on his third tour of Australia in 1922-24.
The majority of Brayton's performances, excepting Chu Chin Chow, were in Shakespeare plays. She also performed for several seasons at the Stratford Festival. Her last stage appearance was as Portia in Julius Caesar in 1932, directed by Asche. Asche became unstable and violent in his later years, and he and Brayton separated for a time, although she produced his 1928 play, The Good Old Days of England.
After Asche's death in 1936, Brayton married Dr. Douglas Chalmers Watson and moved to Drem in East Lothian. Following the death of her second husband she moved to Dawlish in Devon where she died at the age of 76. She was cremated and her ashes buried in the grave of her first husband in the riverside cemetery near her former home in Bisham, Berkshire. She and Asche produced no children.
There are three paintings of Brayton in the National Portrait Gallery, and many photographs exist showing her in costume.
- Herod, as Mariamne (1900)
- Richard II, as Queen Isabella (1900,1903,1910)
- Twelfth Night, as Viola (1901)
- The Prayer of the Sword (James Bernard Fagan), as Ilaria Visconti (1904)
- Darling of the Gods, as Yo-San (1904)
- Taming of the Shrew, as Katherine (1904,1907,1908,1914)
- Hamlet, as Ophelia (1905)
- Measure for Measure, as Isabella (1906)
- The Virgin Goddess (Rudolf Besier), as Althea (1906)
- Tristram & Iseult, as Iseult (1906)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream, as Helena (1906)
- Othello, as Desdemona (1907, 1909)
- Attila, as Ildico (1907)
- The Two Pins (Frank Stayton), as Elsa (1908)
- Merry Wives of Windsor, as Mistress Ford (1911)
- As You Like It, as Rosalind (1911)
- Kismet, as Marsinah (1914)
- Chu Chin Chow, as Zahrat-al-Kulub (1916-1921)
- Julius Caesar, as Portia (1932)
- Fletcher, Chrissy, A Theatrical Life: The Many Faces of Oscar Asche 1871-1936 (2002, Fletcher) ISBN 0-9580497-1-8.
- Pearson, Hesketh. The Last Actor-Managers (London, 1950)
- Who was who in the Theatre, 1912-1976: a biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, directors, playwrights, and producers of the English-speaking theatre v. 1 Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1978.