In 1884 Robert Louis Stevenson fell in love with the magical realm of toy theatres –miniature stages on which one could enact the spectacles of the day–at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop. “If you love art, folly, or the bright eyes of children,” he wrote, “speed to Pollock’s.”
Miraculously, one can still speed to Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden today and be similarly enchanted. Louise Heard, the brilliant present-day proprietress of the shop,* grew up amidst its treasures and has kept the tradition alive by re-inventing its possibilities. She collaborated with Disney to produce a playable version of the West End musical FROZEN, with Clive Hicks-Jenkins to create a macabre and delectable HANSEL AND GRETEL, and with John MacFarlane to recreate his magnificent Birmingham Royal Ballet production of THE NUTCRACKER.
Louise had a personal passion project, however. The 19th century scripts published by Pollock’s are essentially unplayable today. What if she could create a new toy theatre with a contemporary script that was actually fun for kids to play? What if she took one of the Victorian staples–SLEEPING BEAUTY, say–and had someone reinvent it for a 21st century audience?
What if she hired an American screenwriter with a long list of award-winning children’s programmes that made kids laugh to write it? What if she hired me?
What if she allowed me to be the lunatic that I am and introduce new characters like a clown named Hickory Dickory Duck and a hiker girl named Peony Rigglesby who’s worried about her WiFi giving out and a prince who loves himself more than he ever could love a princess?
What if the kids putting on the play had to choose between three unheroic heroes to rescue the princess and save the day? What if the princess didn’t even care?
Louise and I had so much fun creating THE MAGIC HORN together! She chose brilliant designers to supplement Peter Jackson’s existing stage designs (Vikki Zhang to create the characters and Lorenzo Gabini to design the packaging.) I was particularly thrilled that the script has been included in a special booklet with its own easel. No screenwriter I’ve known has ever been similarly honored. An easel’s even better than an Emmy!
The result? Louise calls it a laugh-out-loud masterpiece. I like the sound of that. Ms. Heard has an eye for what appeals to children, and I think THE MAGIC HORN will appeal to their parents as well.
So if you love art, folly, or the bright eyes of children… speed to Pollock’s in Covent Garden. It’s still there.
Jeffrey Kindley 2023
An edited version of this piece was originally published in The Covent Gardener Magazine.
*Editor of this blog wishes to be modest but has kept this version unedited.