The Harlequinade Teapot

Behold the Harlequinade teapot. The wonderful Gloria at Sussex Lustreware has boldly decorated its Falstaffian belly with two scenes featuring Clown, Pantaloon, Harlequin, Columbine and some performing dogs. In addition the spout and lid swarm with vignettes of Cinderella’s slipper, stars, a jovial sun, oak leaves and a jaunty windmill! 

The Harlequinade range celebrates the great Victorian tradition of toy theatre and brims with the characters that would be found in nineteenth century theatre entertainments. Harlequin, Columbine, Clown and Pantaloon were adopted into British pantomime from the Italian Commedia dell’arte, leading a supporting cast of tradesmen and street-sellers forming the backgrounds to their adventures.

There were also assorted fairies, sprites, ogres and demons from the world of faery, together with a mix of gods and goddesses of the Ancient Worlds plus a spattering of historic characters.

Neptune in his shell chariot drawn by seahorses.

The London printmakers who created the toy theatres which became so popular, adapted their scenery and character sheets from live performances, and that’s why the 19th century toy theatres are such an excellent record of what was going on in the real theatres of the times.

Green’s Character sheet for Harlequin and the Giant Helmet.

The actors of Harelquinades were adept at all the performing arts, and we can tell from depictions of them in toy theatre sheets that they were acrobats, dancers and even equestrian performers. In my images for the range of china I’ve represented them in all their diversity of skills.

Below: My drawing of Harlequin, Columbine, Clown and Pantaloon in the ‘pyramid’ arrangement so common in toy theatre representations of the characters.

Harlequin as an equestrian performer.

The photographic record of Harlequinade is very thin, composed of costumed performers in photographers’ studios, because the art of photography at the time was not up to recording them in action on stage. Here in an undated but late-Victorian hand-coloured studio photograph, actors in the roles of Harlequin, Columbine, Clown and Pantaloon pose in all their Pantomime finery:

Toy theatres, by contrast, with their scenery showing all the elaborate transformations and spectacular stage tricks, as well as the wide range of characters, give us an excellent impression of how the live performances looked to an audience of Victorian theatre-goers.

Harlequin & Columbine plate from the Sussex Lustreware Harlequinade range.

6 thoughts on “The Harlequinade Teapot

  1. I found this really interesting Clive and I love the animated trailer, it’s so joyful.
    Oh, and If you are planning on doing a third collaboration with Sussex Lustreware, may I suggest a subject –
    The Wildermen – I think they would look great marauding around on lustreware, and lurking under porridge waiting to startle small children!

    P.S. I did wonder why on the Harlequin and the Giant Helmet character sheet the Quaker has such a massive head and the landlady is bald?! I’m guessing for comedic effect?

    • Hello Peter. You may like to see that there are to date eight animated trailers for this project, all of them at my Insta account and my Clive Hicks-Jenkins YouTube page.

      One of the most important skills I’ve learned is knowing where to place ideas with collaborators receptive to them. Both the World of Wonders and Harlequinade themes fitted well into the Sussex Lustreware aesthetic, whereas what you’re suggesting wouldn’t be such a comfortable pairing. It’s a good idea, though for a different company with a darker sensibility. Sussex Lustreware takes its inspiration from Sunderland Lustre, which is characterised by a joyful celebration of a more charmingly picturesque world than the one represented by the European masking traditions of the Wildermen.

      I had a message this morning suggesting I make a Sweeney Todd shaving-mug for Sussex Lustreware, which idea falls into the realm of Guignol that I love, but that again, wouldn’t be a good fit. Again, another project for another day for another collaborator.

      The large headed puppets in toy theatre sheets represent what would have been performed in ‘live’ theatres by ‘Big Heads’, which were actors hidden beneath huge papier mâché heads. Big Heads with their exaggerated features and puny bodies, were commonplace in Victorian pantomimes for representing ‘grotesque’ characters.

      I’d need to go check my original playscript for Harlequin and the Giant Helmet, but the Landlady is undoubtedly bald because that’s what was called for in the script.

      • Very good point, that makes total sense about collaborators and compatibility when you put it like that! (I don’t think my brain is very coherent at the best of times!)

        I look forward to checking out the rest of the animations on my next lunch break! 🙂

  2. Loved this.
    I have been sooo tired, these last few months, that I have gone to bed early trying to sleep (and not being able to, due to sheer exhaustion), so this afternoon after a good rest I came to read you, and watch this entry and the one about the Gawain film.

    Coming here lifts my spirit, with so many things to delight in.

    So, I have gone to Sussex Lusterware, to try and buy the teapot, some mugs, some plates … Every item of your Harlequinade is sold out. They say they shall replenish the stock again and again until Christmas, so I shall try next week, and the week after that…
    And then I’ve tried to order the Gawain film in BR or DVD. Even if it is not going to be as good as the poem. (I am not an Amazon Prime subscriber)
    But it has not yet come out. So I shall go again to the Simon Armitage edition, with your illustrations, a book I love to return to, and read, again and again.
    But I shall also buy the DVD (B.R. is better for drawings and animation).

    So, you see, you have made my sunday.
    Thank you .
    Love.
    ¡Un Abrazo desde Madrid!
    M

    • Dear Maria. What a lovely message to read here. I’m so sorry that you’ve been out of sorts, though perhaps not surprising in these strange and stressful times, and you must still be feeling raw after Javier’s passing. Please take very good care of yourself. It’s a comfort to know that you find delight at the Artlog.

      Yes, keep your eyes peeled at the Sussex Lustreware online shop for what Gloria is able to put in there every Saturday. But bear in mind that you can contact her to order what you want, as long as you don’t mind waiting. (And feel free to mention that you are my very dear friend, and that she must look after you well!) Sending warm embraces from Peter and me.

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