He’s behind you! PANTOMIME COSTUMES OF THE PAST AND PRESENT
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As Cinderella magically appears in a stunning ballgown and sparkling tiara, almost instantly changed from the kitchen maid dressed in rags, few people in the audience today realise they are witnessing one of the last remnants of a great Victorian pantomime favourite – the transformation scene. With its host of chorus girls dressed in gloriously extravagant costumes, laboriously sewn by hand with sequins and tinsel to glitter in gaslight, this was the pantomime highlight that the wealthiest London theatres executed with increasing fervour, and even the smallest theatres strove to emulate.
Today's audiences expect colourful, extravagant costumes in pantomime, but many of its traditional characters and their distinctive costumes have been relegated to the annals of theatre history. Their names may be familiar, but the evolution of their dress and its place in pantomime history is less well known.
Pantomime was invented on the London stage over 300 years ago, when Harlequin was its star. He was first seen in 17th century England as Arlecchino, a leading comic character with visiting Italian 'Commedia dell'arte' companies. Early woodcuts and engravings depict him in a long, belted jacket and trousers featuring multicoloured patches signifying his humble origins, and carrying his magic sword or bat. He wore a full black mask, and a soft cap decorated with the tail of a rabbit, hare or fox, possibly a reference to the peasants of his native Bergamo, who similarly decorated their hats. When Harlequin appeared on the London stage in 1717 at Lincoln's Inn Fields played by the actor-manager John Rich in Harlequin Sorcerer, he was an immediate hit as a masked, acrobatic,
Joseph Grimaldi as Clown
Miss Egan as Columbine dancing, non-speaking character, wearing a short jacket, belted and buttoned, and fitting trousers featuring a criss-cross design. This marked the transition between the traditional Italian dress of 'shreds and patches' and the elegant, sequinned Harlequin of the Regency stage as introduced at Drury Lane Theatre in 1800 for the pantomime Harlequin Amulet by the dancing master James Byrne. His celebrated Harlequin wore a fitted one-piece suit covered with hundreds of triangles of cloth and thousands of spangles. He wore a small Venetian eye mask, and introduced significance to the colours in his costume, such as yellow for jealousy and black for invisibility, to which he pointed with his bat.
By this date pantomimes were two-part entertainments, the second part a comic chase or Harlequinade featuring the love affair of Harlequin and Columbine thwarted by Columbine's protective parent Pantaloon, with with the farcical interference of clown. Columbine, originally a waiting-maid with the Commedia, wore the short skirts of a dancer, fetchingly displaying a well-turned ankle, while her disciplinarian father wore a version of the Italian convention of a short jacket, and knee-length breeches, dispensing with the long cloak, little Greek cap and hook-nosed mask.
Despite the dazzling elegance of Harlequin in the early 19th century, his popularity was soon eclipsed by that of Clown as played by the rising star Joseph Grimaldi. His distinctive costume of neck-ruff, brightlycoloured doublet and baggy knee-length breeches, patterned and trimmed with braid, was also introduced in 1800, by the manager Charles Dibdin the Younger for the Sadler's Wells pantomime Peter Wilkins, or
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Juvenile drama TOY THEATRES KEPT GROWN UPS ENTERTAINED
Though the name implies ‘play’, toy theatres are not just for children. In fact the skill needed to orchestrate a performance on these tiny stages makes them more suited to an adult’s steady hand. The most complex theatres included miniature candles to provide stage lighting and a pulley system to move the characters!
When a new play opened, a publisher of toy theatres would send artists to the opening night where they would sketch the costumes in minute detail. These sketches were turned into hand-engraved copper plates and later lithographic stones, which were printed and sold as sheets for 'a penny plain' or 'two pence coloured'. Theatres were constructed of card, printed characters were attached to wooden sticks, and slid in and out of slots on the stage floor. New scenes could be added to a basic set and wealthy families might have a custommade theatre. In an essay Robert Louis Stevenson captured the thrill of a new play: “Every sheet we fingered was another lightning glance into obscure, delicious story; it was like wallowing in the raw stuff of story-books... ”
William West was a prolific publisher of toy theatre ‘sheets’. Credited with inventing the tradition in 1811 he went on to produce books of shortened plays, called 'West's Original Juvenile Drama'. His plays were engraved by artists such as George Cruikshank and possibly William Blake. Pantomimes were amongst the most popular plays for English toy theatres. Costumes were bright, they had a sense of seasonal fun and, of course, audience participation was an intrinsic part of the tradition. These lively English designs had competition from German toy makers whose material was considered more ‘high brow’ and their execution more ‘artistic’.
West was based in Covent Garden in close proximity to the Drury Lane, Royal, Lycean and of course the Covent Garden theatres: but it’s another publisher whose name lives on in the area. Pollock’s toy museum in Euston and toyshop in Covent Garden have been destinations for toy lovers ever since Robert Louis Stevenson’s instruction “If you love art, folly, or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock's...”
Though they undoubtedly entertained children and adults, the value of these transient paper creations also lies in the wealth of theatrical history they provide. The accutely observed portraits of renowned actors such as Joseph Grimaldi, Edmund Kean, Charles and Fanny Kemble, Madame Vestris and William Macready reveal their performance styles in the poses and attitudes they strike. Toy theatres even have links to 20th century ballet history. During preparations for his ballet ‘The Triumph of Neptune’, Serge Diaghilev visited the Webb and Pollock shops to select prints that were used as a basis for Pedro Pruna designs for the scenery and costumes.
Toy theatres declined in popularity in the 20th century. The plays of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw did not translate well into theatre for children – the Victorians doubted the morality of using adult plays to entertain children anyway. Radio and television sealed the fate of an already diminished artform. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is adults who now create the demand for toy theatres, and interest is increasing In Germany: the dedicated Preetz festival is in its 22nd year and artist and performer Robert Poulter has created several modern plays for the toy theatre. The longevity of toy theatres lies in their ability to draw on the imagination and ingenuity that children possess, and adults have forgotten they had. Primrose Tricker Ballet Russes Paper Theatre Kit, £20 Available from V&A Shop, www.vandashop.com. We have six of the kits, used to illustrate this article, to give away, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call T: +44 (0)208 341 9721, Pollocks Toy Museum, 1 Scala Streett, London W1T 2HL, T: +44 (0)20 7636 3452, www.pollockstoymuseum.com
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PuppetmasterDREAMSANDILLUSIONSATTHELITTLE ANGEL THEATRE In 1961 a troupe of enthusiastic puppeteers under the leadership of South African master, John Wright, found a derelict temperance hall in Islington and transformed it into a magical little theatre, specially designed for children and for the presentation of marionette shows.
Today The Little Angel Theatre continues to be at the forefront of puppetry performing its own commissioned work as well as showcasing touring companies from around the world. It embraces all forms of puppetry from the traditional marionette (puppets worked with strings from above) to rod, table top, glove, shadow and Japanese Bunraku. The theatre also entices adult audiences into its world of illusions with its biannual British Puppet Festival, Suspense.
Just emerging from the theatre’s tiny, slightly dusty, on site workshop are the puppets for their latest show, Alice in Wonderland. The designer, director and puppet maker, Peter O’Rourke already has a long list of Little Angel successes sprung from his talented hands including the ever popular Roald Dahl classics Fantastic Mr Fox and The Giraffe the Pelly and Me.
O’Rourke has revelled in this most recent challenge to create Lewis Carroll’s nonsense world of dreams and illusions, with the help of his team. ‘We have tried to pick up on the verbal puns and translate them to the stage: the piece is full of witty songs and visual games: a house grows legs, a caterpillar, made out of geometric blocks grows and grows, and the March Hare’s ears are sprouting out of the top of a house” enthuses O’Rouke. Plastered with poster-sized photographic portraits of a medley of Victorian characters, the set is evocative of the period when Lewis Carroll wrote the novel. “I wanted to reflect the real world that Alice comes from. The portraits appear in various guises throughout the narrative so the real world is constantly encroaching on Alice’s dreams.”
An integrated approach to these productions is a must. “You start with a written treatment, then a crude model box to work out what each character needs to be doing in each scene and coordinate that with the number of puppeteers you’ve got before you can decide what sort of puppet is needed. It is only then you can start making.” With a huge cast of characters to bring to life and only four puppeteers O’Rourke has had to be inventive. “There are twelve juror’s in one scene which we couldn’t possibly manage as puppets so we stuck Victorian photographs on to small doors which the actors open and pop their heads in and out of as each character speaks.”
A panoply of puppetry styles has been plundered to overcome these logistical issues. “I am using rod puppets, table top puppets and picking up on the Victorian theme of the piece I have run the Caucaus race using hand shadow puppets.” What is more each character needs several different versions of itself depending on how many characters are on stage at once. “Some have more moving parts than the others which give the puppets greater subtlety of movement. You might need two or even three puppeteers to operate these so you can only use them when you have enough available hands.” There are five Alice’s, in all, to cater for these technical demands. “One has an extendable neck which grows as she eats a magic mushroom, on other occasions we are using shadow puppetry to create Alice’s ever changing size.”
Alice, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the Cheshire Cat, are all rod puppets made from wood or polystyrene. They all have beautiful carved wooden heads. Their hollowed out carcases are covered in a mixture of endless layers of brown and/or handmade paper which is smeared with gesso and then painted. Each has an element of costume: the Mad Hatter boasts a richly coloured embroidered silk jacquard waist coat; Alice is clothed in a simple blue lawn dress and has silken hair and the Cheshire cat has a woven body which looks like a charm-
ingly homespun knitted jerkin. His tail is bushy with lush stripes of hand dyed cotton threads, his ears are made of leather coated in six layers of paper and gesso before being painted. He has a large, dazzling, white, toothy grin.
The layers and layers of work involved in the thinking, writing, designing any show is something Peter relishes: “When I am looking for solutions to problems be it technical, financial or artistic it heightens my awareness of everything around me. I see nature and art or just simple things in a new way. For the animal skins in The Giraffe the Pelly and me I photographed all sorts of surfaces such as moss covered bricks, wood grain in gates, tree bark. We didn’t have much time or money and it really worked.” For the crafty crocodile in the Alice production he has made a table top puppet with an articulated neck – an idea taken from the children’s life-like wooden wriggly snakes. But what he also likes is that however much work he puts in: “the artifice is not a complete illusion it’s actually quite fragile so the audience has to be in the conceit and bring it together for themselves”. The ultimate in audience participation. Clare Lewis Alice in Wonderland, 20 November 2010 to the 30th January 2011, The Little Angel Theatre, 14 Dagmar Passage, Off Cross Street, Islington, N1 2DN, T: +44 (0)20 7226 1787, www.littleangeltheatre.com, The Biannual Suspense London Puppetry Festival for adults, 29 October 2011, www.suspensefestival.com s e l v e d g e . o r g
Deck the halls GERMAN TEXTILE DESIGNER ORIKE MUTH LIKES TO DECORATE ALL YEAR ROUND
How do you describe what you do? My passion is colours and patterns. I screenprint onto fabric and paper. It’s a technique that allows me to constantly discover new combinations. I design and make cushions, chandeliers, oven cloths, candle holders, decorative Easter eggs and Christmas baubles from my prints.
Is this the only job you have ever had? I always have worked with colour and pattern in various fields. When my studies were finished, my first job was as an interior designer in Hamburg and Hannover. At that time I also worked freelance with the artists Lili Nalovi and Jesko Willert. It was during that period that I found my passion for interior accessories and created my signature style –
accessories with an Asian touch. Is it important that your products are made by hand? Yes, I love my work. I’m so fortunate to be able to both express myself, which makes me happy, and at the same time make other people happy with my products. My products are all handmade with love and I think customers can sense that. Did you teach yourself how to create your baubles and home accessories or have you studied textiles? I studied textile design in Hamburg at the College for Creative Arts. The idea for the baubles came just before my first Christmas with my son.
Having a little family makes you want to revive old traditions but create them in a new way – my way. My baubles are popular – they even attract those people who say they don’t like Christmas! Do you ever hide anything inside the baubles? Just my secret best wishes... Where do you find your inspiration? I find other countries, especially Asia, so inspiring. But if you have no time to travel I recommend walking around with an open mind and open eyes. The world that surrounds us – car boot sales, movies, books, exhibitions, meeting friends and other designers – is always a spring of inspiration. Do you have decorations up all year round? Yes of course. My ‘must haves’ are my special aprons for the kitchen and for the living and bedroom: colourful candle holders, cushions and lampshades. I think most women need these things – and little bags and boxes – for happy living. How do you decorate your house at Christmas? Of course, with a Christmas tree and with baubles, baubles, baubles and a few other treats... What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Decorating my home for Christmas and putting up the tree, lighting the candles and sitting with the family singing carols.
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COHABIT stunning interiors beautifully photographed
40 Lost and found Pascale Palun’s time and emotion study, Kate Cavendish wanders through a house filled with memories. Photography by Joanna Maclennan 74 Deck the halls We interview German textile designer Orike Muth and discover her desire to decorate all year round PhotographedbyGudrunGewecke
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Event 81 The Fairest Join us for a seasonal day of shopping and socialising. Christmas has given us another excuse to bring together asmall selection of our favourite makers. Alongside stalls of handmadegoods,willbeHighTeaofHighgateandworkshopsrunby'TheMakery'.Saturday4 December,11-5,StAugustine'sChurchHall,LondonN65QGwww.selvedge.org
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