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All contents are Copyright © 2006-2012 John M Blundall and Stephen Foster or is part of The John M Blundall Collection unless stated otherwise.

Peter Jackson’s Toy Theatres

Toy theatre enthusiasts will be familiar with the elaborate toy theatres created by Peter Jackson. Peter was born in 1937 and worked as stage manager for West End and other theatres; he was also a manager and director in a number of regional theatres. I first met him when he was teaching at the Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in Birmingham where I taught the puppet theatre courses.

The Peter Jackson Archive of Toy Theatres has been acquired for The World through Wooden Eyes, this archive includes all of the well known toy theatres that were published, plus others that were never published. The archive consists of hundreds of the original pen and ink drawings that include actor portraits, some of them fine copies of early sheets by other publishers.

Perhaps the most interesting items are his original pen and ink drawings for all of the toy theatres, also the hand coloured cut-outs of the theatres that have been assembled, obviously the initial prototypes for printing.

The theatres that were never published are of particular interest. His version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, based on the designs of Leon Bakst for Diaghilev’s 1921 production in London.

The prototype theatre is hand coloured and has been assembled; there is an acting text. There are 56 exquisite original pen and ink drawings of characters and scenery that perfectly reflect the style and detail of Bakst’s original work. There are also a number of alternative prosceniums. Bakst revolutionised theatre design and fashion in the early 1900’s. He inspired many designers, including myself. This toy theatre was sadly never published.

‘The Siege of Rhodes’ by Sir William Davenant was adapted by Peter for the toy theatre version. The proscenium arch and perspective scenes were based on the designs by John Webb for the first performance at Rutland House, London in 1656. The prototypes theatres are cut-out, coloured by hand, and have been assembled. There are 23 sheets of original pen and ink drawings for the theatre, characters and scenery.

‘Restoration Theatre’ is a working model of the Dukes theatre in Dorset Gardens 1671-1709. There are characters and scenery for ‘The Rehearsal’ by George Villiers Duke of Buckingham. All hand painted and with 14 sheets of original pen and ink drawings. This was never published.

The archive has copies of his published toy theatres and all of the original pen and ink drawings for theatres, characters and scenery. There are vast number of later toy theatre sheets and actor portraits, many interesting original actor portraits that Peter developed from early engravings, all of them in the classic style of the early toy theatre sheets and their captions.

The original pen and ink drawings for a small scale Christmas pantomime theatre in three parts captures the whimsical character of the ever popular form of early performances. Peter also designed a series of ‘Pantomime Jumping Jacks’ of characteristic Harlequin characters. Mr Grimaldi as Clown. Mr Bologna as Harlequin. Miss Sharp as Columbine. Mr Blanchard as Pantaloon‘. The fine original pen and ink drawings for the characters exist in the archive and were published in 1990s.

The archive also contains a number of different toy theatre prosceniums and other related items.

The archive is an extraordinary record of the work of a very talented artist and designer of popular toy theatres that must surely stand alongside the finest publishers of the fascinating art and craft of beautifully designed toy theatres. The complexities of the highly coloured theatres are almost overwhelming in some cases, and were recognised as well designed toys in specialist magazines. It has been a great pleasure to continually browse through the archive and to see such fine work based on Peter’s passion for the subject its self, and a great knowledge of the history of theatre and stage costume itself.

Peter Jackson died on the 18th November 2010.

John M. Blundall