In a World of My Own Making

Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, Covent Garden, 2017.
Above: artwork for the Benjamin Pollock’s Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre.

I should say up front that I never set out to be a designer or maker of toy theatres. I love the whole idea of toy theatre and I’m an aficionado of the form. I collect toy theatre ephemera and have from earliest memory. My discovery of 19th century toy theatre sheets as a child was a significant influence on getting me to stage school as a young teenager for the training I’d need for a life of theatre, and while there I found my way, of course, to Benjamin Pollock’s Museum and Toyshop in Fitzrovia, which place still thrills over fifty years on.

Above: Benjamin Pollock at his Hoxton shop.
Above: design of a toy theatre proscenium for the Sussex Lustreware range of Harlequinade tableware.
Design for a joint-Penfold Press/Hicks-Jenkins Christmas card. (Well who doesn’t love a pair of birds in top-hats sitting on windmills or a duck on wheels pulling a cart?)

So all of those things link up for me: love of toy theatre, love of theatre and love of Pollock’s. But what I didn’t see coming was that I would occasionally find myself designing toy theatres. That, was a surprise.

Above: Beauty & Beast Toy Theatre, designed in collaboration with David W. Slack for Design for Today. (Photograph of Jennifer Castle courtesy of Ross Boyask.)

As a stage designer in my thirties, my background of toy theatre undoubtedly influenced the way I thought about stages and the way pictures on them were presented to audiences. Always the sense of a frame and what’s seen through it, which is not so very far from looking at a painting in a frame on a wall.

Above: commissioned Toy Theatre for an as-yet-unreleased horror film.
Above: large toy theatre made as a studio aid.
Above: two of my toy theatres at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, Covent Garden.
Above: illustration of a toy theatre in Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes for Design for Today, 2019.
Above: backdrop for the Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre.

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