'All the World's a stage':
amateur and travelling theatres
Cut-out paper toy shadow theatre from the Boy's Own magazine, c.1855 (RW/15/5/3/1)
Traditional theatre based productions are not the only type of entertainment reflected in Roy’s Collection. Amateur dramatics were another popular way of engaging with theatrical entertainment, and could take a number of forms, including amateur dramatic clubs, home performances for family and friends, and even toy theatre productions reproducing popular plays in miniature form.
The example displayed here is for a performance by the Irving Amateur Dramatic Club. As they demonstrate, the theatre was not the only possible venue for their theatrical endeavours.
The Theatre, Middlesex County Asylum programme, Irving Amateur Dramatic Club,
December 1894 (From RW/3/6/8)
Indeed, advice booklets can be found to guide those aspiring to impress friends and family with amateur dramatics in the home, as is demonstrated in this, a twenty-first edition of 'The Amateur's Guide'.
'The Amateur's Guide' booklet by Thomas Hailes Lacy, published by Samuel French Limited, 1 February 1879 (RW/6/4/5/5/1), containing 'Drawing Room Theatricals' by W.J. Sorrell:
“To clear away…difficulties, or rather to prove that the majority of them exist only in idea, and to give advice, based on experience, in matters relating to Private Theatricals, is the object of this present work. It must, however, be distinctly understood that the aim is, to guide and instruct those amateurs who are content to metamorphise their drawing rooms into Thespian courts, rather than to aid those ambitious aspirants who are satisfied with nothing less than a “real theatre”, with all its mysteries of flies, flats, borders, sets, and wings.”
In particular, the craft of the play in miniature, using paper figures or three dimensional puppets, was enjoyed both at home and in fairground venues. Indeed, Ben Jonson’s play about Bartholomew Fair has, at the climax of its action, a puppet play. Here we have a miniature matchbox version of that well known manifestation of puppet performance– a Punch and Judy show, and a rare playbill for Richardson's New Theatre, which toured venues such as Bartholomew Fair.
Matchbox containing a miniature theatre version of Punch by Pellerin and Company [France], c. early 20th century (RW/15/2/1/4)
Handbill for 'Castles of Athlin & Dunbaine' and 'Harlequin and Mother Goose' at Richardson’s New Theatre, c.1807 (RW/4/4/2/6)