Mill volunteers revive 200–year–old tradition

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Volunteers at Strutts North Mill are set to revive the European tradition of Toy Theatre in the depths of the town’s historic North Mill.

Four helpers at the museum are presenting a new puppet play, “The Tinder Box”, based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson in a miniature theatre being set up in the mill’s basement.

Producer Nigel Griffin, who has been performing Toy Theatre for more than 50 years said the artform encapsulates elements of European culture going back 200 years.

“Toy Theatres were once very popular and replicated the real theatre productions of the time,” he said

“We did a shadow theatre play in the basement one year and decided that it was an excellent setting for puppet shows.

“The theatre itself was made in Germany in the 1890s and the scenes are from German and Danish plays.”

The play will be performed four times daily on August 23, 24 and 25 from 1.30pm. Admission is free, although normal museum entry charges apply.

Fellow volunteers Christine Smith, Stella Howitt and Liz Bolton will assist him.

Trevor said, “We did a shadow theatre play in the basement one year and decided that it was an excellent setting for puppet shows.”

The play is more than just a children’s entertainment, it encapsulates elements of European culture going back 200 years. Toy Theatres were once very popular and replicated the real theatre productions of the time. Those made in Germany, Austria and Denmark were especially elaborate. They found their way to Prague where just over a century ago Anthony Muenzberg decided to replace the flat cardboard figures by small string puppets. That created the unique Czech “Family Theatre” where during the difficult years of the twentieth century people could perform traditional national folk tales free of censorship. The Family Theatre was suppressed during the Communist era but was revived following independence in 1988.

Our play uses ten original Czech puppets plus three dogs, seven elaborate scenes and lots of special effects. The theatre itself was made in Germany in the 1890s and the scenes are from German and Danish Toy Theatre plays. They include some created by Theodore Guggenberger, the stage designer of the Bavarian National Theatre in Munich.

The play will be performed on 23rd, 24th and 25th August with four performances daily starting at 1.30pm. There is no extra charge for seeing the play, normal museum admission charges apply, but people are advised to reserve their seats in advance to avoid disappointment.

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