German Toy Theatre


As in England, the Toy Theatre produced in the German states was popular, prolific and derived from the real theatre. In other respects however it was very different. The sheets tended to be much larger, in later days they were printed by colour lithography and usually only one sheet of characters were issued so performance was not very realistic.Sheets of characters published as costume guides to provincial theatre managers gradually evolved into Toy Theatre sheets. there were many publishers from about 1830.The repertoire was taken from the real stage, it included opera, drama and also specially adapted plays from legend, folk and fairy tales. It was these latter types which eventually became most popular. the standard of design varied, some sheets were extremely artistic others charm because of their crudity. Copying between publishers was the norm and it is fascinating to trace designs back to their sources.Large solid Toy Theatre stages were built for the middle class drawing rooms. Performances were not very  realistic because figures were moved by ugly wires from above, a tradition handed on from marionettes.Although most of the German publishers’ productions were mid-nineteenth century in character, one of them, Schreiber, modernised their products to represent the later realistic movement. To do this he engaged a notable Bavarian scenic artist, Theodor Guggenberger. His scenes are among the most amazing ever produced for the Toy Theatre, an Egyptian Temple for “Magic Flute”, a cave of snakes worked by an elaborate mechanism and a toy shop crammed with detail are some of the best known examples.Schreiber outlived the other publishers, their plays carried on being sold right up to the second world war. In the last few years the firm, which remains an important German publishing house, has reprinted some of the traditional favourites.

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