Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Toy Theatre Memories: Cardboard Boxes

Those of you out there that have been toy theatre enthusiasts for some years, some maybe life-long, probably have similiar stories to tell as the one below. I hope you will consider sharing them with us here...
WE HAD a great toyshop at the end of our street when I was of Meccano and Plasticine age. Not that it sold either product. In fact the marvellous toyshop didn't sell toys at all, but it did stock a wide range of empty packing cases, cardboard boxes, wooden crates and suchlike grocer's debris, all of which were ours for the taking.

Thus, before they were snatched up for bonfire night, I took possession of the raw materials for a model theatre, a farm, an aerodrome, a battlefield, a village, and with the help of a little builder's sand, a seaside resort.

Nor was I the only one hard at it in Santa's cardboard workshop. Every year when the fair - or feast as we call it up there - came to town, we first of all squandered our pocket money on the dodgems and then set about constructing our own fairground out of cardboard boxes.

Roll- em- down stalls, flip-a- coin stalls, spinthe-wheel stalls (we didn't know the French for roulette) were the basic attractions. Marbles were brought into play, and the currency used was buttons snitched from workboxes or even, in desperation, clipped from school blazers and overcoats; but the principal ingredient was the humble cardboard box.

Thus when I learn from an academic outfit in Stockholm called the International Toy Research Centre that so- called educational toys are a waste of money and that children can learn just as much from playing with a cardboard box, I come out in favour of the cardboard box.

That model theatre I just mentioned was knocked up from half a dozen cornflake packets glued together, plus a strip of corrugated cardboard to form the proscenium arch.

It was, in rotation, a legitimate theatre, a music hall with cut- out crosstalk acts clipped from comic postcards, an opera house (the rights of my one-act operetta, Robin Hood, are still available) and even a military tattoo, with a cardboard Spitfire descending to the stage on a length of cotton.

And all handmade. My only concession to commercial interests was that I ran off the programmes on my John Bull printing outfit.

MY MODEL theatre (no one was allowed to call it a toy theatre) kept me enthralled until I was old enough to go to the grownup theatre. All this time I was learning my trade - or one of my trades. And not an educational toy in sight. And it all began with a cardboard box.
From "How Our Children can Box Clever", by Keith Waterhouse, Daily Mail, 29 September 2005.