Treasure Island, Hansel & Gretel and 4 generations of Toy Theatre Enthusiasts!

At last I am going to tell you all about our trip to visit the lovely Ted & Enid Hawkins in Blackpool!

We were invited to visit Ted & Enid for “a bit of dinner” and to do our Toy Theatre show for each other, when we were at the Vischmarkt Papierentheater Festival in the Netherlands together.  We had missed each others shows due to our performances being at the same time due to the scheduling.  We were very pleased when we discovered that they lived just a short journey up the M6 from us in England, so keeping in touch would be fairly easy.

It was a great while later, however, when I was well into the making of the “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” show for Skipton Puppet Festival that Ted finally got in touch by email and made a more concrete invitation.  I was slightly fed up, that once again, events would not arrange themselves in a nice evenly spaced manner but instead would lie in wait behind bushes and then spring out at me all at once.  As Ted explained that he was due to have an eye operation and might not be able to see our show at all, should the operation not go well, we were very happy to oblige by going to visit Ted sooner rather than later.  Just to remove the suspense for you, Ted’s operation went very well and he can now see better with the eye that was operated on than the other!  He was considering the use of an eye patch to even things up and to indulge his piratical side a little, but thought it would be uncomfortable.

Considering the fact that Ted had done a show of “Treasure Island”, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of copies of the book on Ted & Enid’s shelves, (there were at least 4 different ones).  Ted explained, however that there was a personal connection for him with the story, because he shares the same name as the main character (Jim Hawkins).

Ted had very kindly laid out his considerable collection of toy theatres and scenery in his “den” upstairs so that Tim and I could have a nosy at them.  I think it wasn’t quite his entire stock, but there simply wasn’t room for any more to go out!

Ted had created, for many of his paper theatres, the most beautiful surrounds which were extremely detailed and artistically finished.  He obviously has a keen aesthetic sense as each one was finished using a style and materials appropriate to the style of the theatre.

You can see it best from the pictures, but the majority of the printed cardboard theatres include only the proscenium arch, the curtain, some of the “boxes” with the posh people in and the orchestra.  However, in the case of Buxton Opera House, (a building I’d recently visited for Buxton Puppet Festival), Ted had created the entire exterior of the building, which opened up to reveal the stage inside.

He had also ingeniously invented a gismo to fold the audience members in their seats flat when the building was being closed up and to pop them back up when it was opened.  Doubtless many of the toy theatre afficionados out there will already know that Ted won an award for this Buxton Opera House theatre design, and very well deserved too.

It appears that Toy Theatre enthusiasts like Ted are often to be seen nosing around in model and doll’s house shops for such things as miniature light fittings and wallpaper.  If you were to try to use normal wallpaper the patterns would of course be too large.  Ted’s excellent painting skills were put to good use in the way he suggested the reflections on the window panes on the exteri

Ted's award winning theatre!

Ted's award winning Buxton Opera House (Exterior)

or.  He used some kind of air-drying clay for the stone work and two halves of a hamster toy to create the domes on the two towers!  I do love creative recycling!

Inside Buxton Opera House

Interior of Buxton Opera House

I had been intrigued by Ted’s articles in the Puppet Master, (British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild Magazine) about his creative ways of getting toy theatre figures to move.  He had mentioned on a number of occasions to me the triumph he had in putting into action an innocent and simple stage instruction in the “Forest of Bondi” play.  The play directed that a dog should jump over a gate, once in one direction and then back in the other!  Quite a challenge for a little piece of cardboard!

So, I was very pleased to see the theatre that Ted had used for this, some of the figures, the sets and the ingenious dog.  There was also a set in which a lady leans out of an upper storey window, with a lighted lantern goes in again, and then comes out of the door at the bottom.  Easy for real actors with props, a technical challenge, to someone creating a toy theatre show.  Ted had actually used a doll’s house lantern that really lit up for this, which impressed me, I have to say.  We were also treated to the video of the performance of this show with the dog jumping later in the day.

Another lovely “Doll’s House like” theatre was this model of the Blackfriars Theatre home of “The King’s Men”, (of whom Shakespeare was of course one).

Ted with The Blackfriars Theatre, Home of "The King's Men"

Ted had inherited this from someone else, when it was in a sad state of repair, and has been renovated and improved by Ted, who replaced all of the balsa wood timbers with something rather more substantial.  Like the B.O.H. It is hinged.  So you can either view the stage through the theatre over the audiences heads, or you can swing that to one side and view the stage only.  I am not clear whether it is necessary to open it up if you wish to perform a play with it or not.

The other theatre that I most admired was this chinese style one based on the Pantomime Peacock Theatre built in 1874 in the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.  Ted created using the two dimensional image at the top for a guide.  Once again, Ted has made it into more of a beautiful object than it could have been, using his own creativity and skill.  It is also clear that Ted has had hours of pleasure out of making these.  Ted told me that the last ten years, that he has been involved with the toy theatre have been among the most enjoyable in his life.

Since there is so much to say about this visit, and this is already a long post, I will leave you with a tantalising “To be continued…….”

The Real Pantomime Peacock Theatre, Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

(Ted actually visited this theatre in 2003 and was given a backstage tour and shown how the mechanical peacock fan tail works)


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