Irish marionette string puppet theatre. Dublin’s Patagonian Theatre, which opened in 1774 in Abbey Street, Dublin (Ireland), transferred to London in 1776, where it was set up at Exeter Change (previously occupied by Charles Dibdin’s marionette show and later by the Eidophusikon of Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg). It remained there for five years, until 1781.
The interest of the Patagonian is that it was in a very different tradition from the more popular one of Randal Stretch, Flockton or Jobson and may well have been influenced by some of the Italian companies that visited Ireland and Britain at the period, and whose productions owed much to the more aristocratic private theatres of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni or the Eszterhazy family where the marionette stage was seen as a miniaturized version of the grander operatic scenic stage of the Baroque period. The stage opening was 1 metre 80 centimetres wide and the emphasis was on the scenery and the scenic picture, whilst the 30 centimetre marionettes were in scale with this. The main repertoire consisted of parodies of opera, burlesque pieces and farces stuffed with topical allusions.
One of the main authors was Kane O’Hara whose Midas, a burlesque opera, and an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s Tom Thumb were both performed. Publicity for the theatre constantly referred to the architectural and topographical aspects of the scenery. The special effects for The Shipwreck, an opera by William Davenant and John Dryden based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, included a moonlight scene, an eruption of Vesuvius, Italian landscapes and views of Derbyshire inspired by Loutherbourg’s scenes for Drury Lane. The Dublin Society awarded a special medal to the scene painter John Ellis and it is clear that the tiny stage of the Patagonian was at the forefront of developments in pre-Romantic scenography, not to mention the various panoramas and optical shows that would become a significant part of many 19th-century European marionette shows.
- Speaight, George. The History of the English Puppet Theatre. London: George Harrap, 1955; Illinois: Robert Hale/South Illinois University Press, 1990.