Tuesday, October 18, 2005

'Heroes or Villains?' until November 6th

Corsican Brothers finaleI apologize for being a bit late on sharing this, but I only found out about it tonight. Thankfully, it runs until November 6th, so if you want to take it in, and you're lucky enough to be near London, you still have a chance...

The exhibition mentioned in the article below showcases some lovely toy theatres, making (what I consider) valid comparisons between children then and now. Some things don't change!
More than a century before the arrival of ultraviolent computer games such as Grand Theft Auto, in which it's run-of-the-mill to slash bystanders with a chainsaw before grabbing a burger, British children were enjoying toys that were technologically more simple but no less bloodthirsty.

An exhibition opening today at the Museum in Docklands charmingly illustrates this point. Devoted to the vogue for toy theatres that flourished in the 1820s and '30s, the show contains 35 pristine examples, including the cardboard cut-out above.

"Toy theatres were incredibly popular with young teenagers," says curator Beverley Cook. The 2-D actors played out scenes from sensationalist plays of the period, featuring villainous folk heroes such as Dick Turpin and Blackbeard. "Children would come out of the London theatres and buy a recreation in flat form of the play they'd just seen," says Cook. "You could buy a single scene or, if you had enough money, the whole play, which might be up to 30 sheets. Often, the publishers printing these sheets were based near the theatres. It was merchandising - just as you can buy Star Wars figurines today."

This scene is the grim finale of The Corsican Brothers, adapted from a novel by Alexandre Dumas. The philandering Chteau-Renaud - you can make out his name on the strut connecting the duellists - skewers one brother with his sabre. The play was first staged in 1852, but this cut-out version didn't appear for nearly 25 years.

"Lots of these plays ended with a fight scene, a death or some kind of explosion," says Cook. "Violence was common, so the popularity of toy theatres doesn't surprise me at all. Boys have always played with swords and guns."

'Heroes or Villains?' is at the Museum in Docklands, London, until November 6.
From The Daily Telegraph, 16 July 2005.