Those of you who read my two previous posts about our visit to Ted Hawkins in Blackpool may remember that I was going to attempt to put a video of Ted’s Treasure Island toy theatre show on this blog for everyone to see. I hit a technological wall as I could not find any way of transferring the video from the DVD onto my computer. I have now worked out how to do it, so it is my great pleasure to present Ted’s lovely version of the tale to you below. Click here to see the previous posts “Treasure Island, Hansel & Gretel and 4 Generations of Toy Theatre Enthusiasts!” and “Treasure Island, Hansel & Gretel and 4 Generations of Toy Theatre Enthusiasts cntd.!”
Ted has also given me permission to include the text from his article for the PuppetMaster (The Journal of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild). It is from the Volume 16, No.9 Autumn 2011 edition and tells all about his making process for the show:
“Not another Pirate play ! Yes, but this one is the ultimate, the essential, the first and foremost, and everybody’s favourite. It is of course, Robert Louis Stevenson’s
(not another “yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum !” ?)
Last year I had begun to consider that perhaps my toy theatre days were over… a serious worsening eye problem, and nearing 80, but then in October I saw the PUFFIN 1953 publication of TREASURE ISLAND, as a children’s toy theatre cut-out book. Ten scenes, and a full cast of characters, – Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, Squire Trelawney, Doctor Livesey, and all brought to life with a brilliant script adaptation by Geoffrey Robinson.
This could be fun ! I thought… Keep it fairly simple, and possibly I could even make it in ‘pop-up’ form, so that there would be no scene changing. Everything would just pop up ! Or would it ? The first problem was the sound-track, and even that went unbelievably easy. Enid, my wife had a hair appointment, and while she was out, I decided to read the script book into my Apple’s ‘Garage-band’… straight off, page after page, taking the characters ‘ad lib’ as they presented themselves, and surprisingly finished the whole play just before Enid returned. I listened to it…
and it wasn’t bad, I thought. Music and sound effects followed.
Perhaps I could do this as a play, and in time for Harry Oudekerk’s Festival at Harderwijk in the Netherlands in early June… ? – as long as my eyes held out.
The end of last year was therefore taken up with making the scenes. Joining each one to the next one, so that when one was lowered backwards, it pulled the next one up into view, and so on… The first two or three, or even four were no problem, but as the ‘book of scenes’ got thicker and thicker, and of course heavier and heavier, there were problems. Also the fact that the wings of each scene had to fold forwards, thus causing the back-scene to be further away than normal from the front of the stage, the angle of the audience’s width of view was quite narrow. Nobody sitting to the side would be able to see the full scene.
What to do ? I eventually decided that there was nothing left, but to expose myself ! – and my co-performer, and to put everything in full view of the audience, – warts and all !
We would stand in front of the proscenium, to operate the characters and to lift the scenes, so that they would be ‘held’ within the open proscenium, and then each scene as it finished would be lowered behind the proscenium, and the next one would take its place. The audience would therefore see us ‘fumbling’ with each character as it was placed onto the stage, and would also see it removed. No convenient wings would hide our short-comings !
Originally I had thought of operating the characters single-handed, – thinking that my wife could ‘feed’ the characters appearing from her side, into sunken shallow runways, and I could just pull the end of the strip of wood, or whatever, that showed itself protruding from its ‘slot’ and the character would magically move towards me… no rods, or wire holders showing, – just the characters feet, as if ‘walking on water’ with no visible connection to its hidden strip of wood. ?
The problem was to try to keep each ‘stage-floor’ as thin as possible, as with ten scenes, the total thickness of the ‘book’ would get too heavy and thick. This was only made possible when I bought a roller-blind in the sale at a furniture shop, for just £5, and found it consisted of a couple of hundred extremely thin strips of bamboo, – conveniently painted black. These bamboo strips are no more than 1mm thick / 7mm wide.
They do not break, (?) they can be bent or twisted, and a slot can be made into each piece, allowing a short vertical insert of bamboo, – with the character attached to it, to be glued to it, and thus moved along the strip, A gap of approx 3mm has to be made between the hidden base strip, and the feet of each character so that they do indeed seem to be ‘walking on water’ ! These bamboo strips with each character added, are amazing. They can be inserted into the various slots, and easily support the character… even though these were up to 15cms or 6 inches high, and yet are as pliable as plastic.
Further difficulties, that seemed almost impossible to overcome at the time, were that some characters had to be in place as the scene was lifted… for instance Long John Silver sitting on a barrel as the Blockhouse scene opens. It is night, and Jim has returned to find the Pirates have taken possession, and his friends have gone. This scene would be set up normally with the curtain down, but of course we have no curtain, and Long John Silver could hardly be pushed on, – riding a barrel. To make matters worse, this figure has to be removed when night changes to day. So no fixing or lifting methods can be permanent. Israel Hands is also seen sitting propped up on the deck of the Hispaniola, as scene eight lifts up, bottle of brandy in his hand, ready for Jim to confront, – this figure also has to be easily removed halfway through the scene, yet has to be fixed firmly enough to be in place as the scene is first shown.
I made the characters in three dimensional ‘decoupage’ style, keeping to added layers of card, for a change, – instead of aluminium, and in many cases, found that I could cut the clothing to stand proud from the figure, and to bend and shape the limbs. Main characters were animated such as Israel Hands holding the knife, and crossing the stage in menacing manner on his way to kill Jim… or the Captain in the first scene after being given the final warning by Blind Pew, clutches his heart and staggers backwards into his room, to die.
So the ‘keeping it fairly simple’ idea, did not exactly work out. As you can see.
We finished up with my daughter Wendy assisting me, on the other side of the stage, and Enid helping behind scenes, to take our many discarded characters. As many will remember. Wendy’s daughter Rachel assisted me in the Forest of Bondy six years ago, so we are keeping it ‘in the family’ !
Harry’s Festival, – the third, – proved to be a huge success, with perfect weather once again, wonderful hospitality from the various ‘open houses’ and a really memorable and heart-warming experience for all those taking part. Other performers from England were, Brian and Pat Hollins, with HIGH TOBY, – another Puffin production, strangely enough, This was their first-ever public performance, and they handled it like pro’s.
The third from GB were ‘Rough Magic’ A young promising couple, performing a very modern HANSEL & GRETEL.
All in all, there were twelve of us, – performers, from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, and England. With performances ranging from a Dutch Gilbert & Sullivan’s RUDDIGORE to a German Mark Twain’s ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER.
A most unconventional eye-catching back-projection pop-up ICE BOOK, and conventional stories from writers like Hans Anderson, such as BIG KLAUSS & LITTLE KLAUSS, by Ab Vissers. Too many to mention in detail, but a Festival to remember, and one that I never thought I would be able to attend, but one to be so thankful for being present.”
Ted will be performing his own pop-up version of a Hansel & Gretel at the Vischmarkt Papierentheater Festival in Harderwijk (the Netherlands) which is on the 13,14 & 15th May this year.
Our own version of Hansel & Gretel is available for bookings too – for more information and a video CLICK HERE
If you are interested in receiving a copy of The Puppet Master, (which is a fantastic high quality magazine with lots of great photographs) then you might be interested in becoming a member of the BPMTG. You can find out more on their website http://www.puppetguild.org.uk/