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The Rise and Fall of Toy Theatre

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A writer discovers the living remains of miniature theatrical productions, which served as the PR campaigns of the day in 19th Century England

By GARRETT EPPS

When Toys Get Real | Craftsmanship Magazine, Winter 2016

In the heart of old London, just north of Covent Garden, a theatrical tradition dating back to Victorian days lives on, in Pollock's Toy Museum. (Photos courtesy of Pollock's Toy Museum and Pollock's Toyshop)

One day in late winter 1884, the author Robert Louis Stevenson entered a grimy print shop near London’s Finsbury Square. The shop’s owner, W.G. Webb, had stayed up late the past few nights making notes for his famous friend, a longtime customer, about the curious world of the English “toy theatre”—a popular art form (now all but vanished) that replicated the dramas of the day in miniature. Stevenson was at work on an essay about that world for The Magazine of Art. Webb was a prolific toy theater producer at the time, and his name was almost synonymous with what was called “Juvenile Drama.”

Years later, Webb’s grandson recalled the scene that followed. “Here, Mr. Stevenson,” Webb asked, “where do I come in in this?”

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