Tag Archives: Finborough Theatre

Finborough Theatre Posters

After the interest in the post on Royal Court Theatre posters I had a look at our other collection of theatre posters, for the Finborough Theatre, a smaller establishment which is nevertheless a significant outpost of theatrical life in Kensington and Chelsea.

Once again I have to give you a disclaimer that I know almost nothing about theatre so I have simply chosen posters I llke.

Harajuku Girls - Copy

You know I like Japanese stuff so that’s a good start. Three Japanese girls, Mari, Yumi and Keiko, contemplate their future in night time Tokyo.

The art of the theatre poster is an old one, possibly as old as the theatre itself. I’ve come across  examples in the Local Studies collection of posters and handbills ranging from the detailed announcements of the programmes at the Cremorne Gardens to events at the smaller establishments in the Borough. You’ve seen some examples by John Hassall in another post. The modern theatre poster which anyone who travels in London cannot fail to have noticed is the continuation of a long tradition.

The theatre poster designer sometimes works with photographs of the cast or the sets but mostly has to come up with unique images which convey the nature of the production and catch the eye in different sizes, displayed on walls or (much reduced) in magazines and newspapers.

Here are some examples which caught my eye, from a collection of posters recently donated to the Local Studies collection.

Lost Boy - Copy

A musical sequel to Peter Pan set on the eve of World War 1.

Grand Tour - Copy

A revival of a 1979 Broadway production in which a Jewish man and an anti-semitic Polish officer meet in Paris and share a car to flee the Nazis while competing for the affections of the same woman.

Carthage - Copy

The death of a boy in a young offenders unit.

Variation on a theme 2014 - Copy

A Terence Rattigan revival (of a “forgotten classic”) which featured Rachael Stirling.

The Hard Man 2014 - Copy

I was drawn to this one,also a revival,  because I’d read Boyle’s autobiography A sense of freedom (1977) years ago, and seen David Hayman’s portrayal of him on TV in an adaptation of the book. Boyle spent years in the Scottish prison system eventually ending up in a special unit at Barlinnie Prison where he turned to art and literature. The Hard Man was first produced in 1976.

Unscorched 2013 - Copy

A child protection officer searching the internet for child pornography which takes its toll on him, hence the main image of a figure trapped in a TV.

Dream of perfect sleep 2014

A family drama about dementia and terminal illness.

Summer day's dream 2013 - Copy

A revival of a play first performed in 1949, a post-apocalyptic story about an agrarian existence interrupted by outsiders from the wider world.

Almost near 2014

A play which links soldiers in Afghanistan with a child in the UK.

Pig Girl 2015 - Copy

A captive woman confronts her killer.

Sommer 14- a dance of death 2014 - Copy

The famous German dramatist explores the outbreak of World War 1 through  the medieval mystery plays and the charcater of Death.

Therese Raquin 2014 - Copy

A musical version of the Emile Zola novel of adultery and murder. I of course remember the TV adaptation with Kate Nelligan

Silent Planet 2

A detainee in a Russian mental hospital and his interogator share the world of literature.

London Wall - St James - Copy

A drama of office life first performed in 1931, this show was transferred as other productions have been to another theatre . (I had to crop the image slightly.)

The Finborough Theatre was founded in 1980 above the Finborough Arms pub, Finborough Road. It has been presenting new writing and reviving older plays ever since. It continues to provide an astonishing variety of theatrical  experiences inside an innocuous building at the junction of two streets in the southern end of Kensington/Earls court.

Their website: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/index.php



Thanks of course to the Finborough Theatre for donating posters and handbills to the Local Studies Collection. I can’t write anything very insightful about the productions themselves but I am delighted by these images and glad to have them and others in our collection.


Thomson and Barrie: Quality Street

Hugh Thomson, whose illustrations to the 1903 edition of Frances Burney’s Evelina formed the basis of a recent post, was a prolific and popular illustrator. He produced drawings for some editions of Shakespeare, did illustrations for all of Jane Austen’s novels and also drew pictures to accompany editions of poetry and plays.

I was at pains last time to demonstrate Burney’s local connection in order to justify a post about Thomson’s work. So again I have to point out the local connection of his collaborator, Kensington resident J M Barrie, who had a couple of addresses in Kensington including 133 Gloucester Road, a house I walk past every day, up till now not realising who had lived there.

Before the success of Barrie’s Peter Pan play he enjoyed another stage sensation in London and New York with a play called Quality Street. And yes, they did name the famous tins of chocolates after the play. More of that later, but first, a sort of apology. I was a bit unkind to Barrie’s creation Peter Pan in this post last year. The problem was that Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens are very much better than the text itself.

The apology to Barrie is due because unfortunately the same is true of Quality Street. Hugh Thomson’s illustrations are much more enjoyable than the actual story.


So briefly then. Phoebe, a young woman of 20 falls in love with Brown, a young doctor. Just as she is expecting a proposal Brown goes off to war. (These are the Napoleonic wars). Ten years go by. Phoebe and her sister Susan are running a small school for turbulent children (their straitened circumstances are due to some bad investment advice from Brown which never got mentioned to him). Phoebe considers herself to be an old maid at the age of 30. Brown, having distinguished himself in the wars returns, missing an arm, but still not showing any sign of asking Phoebe to marry him. Just a little annoyed by events Phoebe re-invents herself as her own niece Livvy, flighty and flirtatious where “Miss Phoebe” is staid and dowdy.

act 2 007

[The veiled Phoebe and her sister Susan are taken off to a ball by Valentine Brown]

Girls just want to have fun basically, which is what ensues, along with some hilarity. The deception somehow works and causes some complications for Phoebe. Eventually Phoebe and Brown realise they love each other, the whole thing is sorted out and the fictional Livvy is smuggled out of the narrative to everyone’s satisfaction.

During the course of collecting the images for this post I read most of Quality Street and while I still hold to the view that the pictures are the most interesting thing about it, I did warm to some of the dialogue after a while (although the story is  still quite silly and Barrie’s stage directions sound like he’s writing a DVD commentary). If I had been around in London at the time I might have gone to see it, as many others did. It was a good boost to Barrie’s career.

But as with Evelina, Thomson’s pictures are why we are here. They tell the story, (or any other story you could fit with them) in a manner I find perfectly satisfactory in itself.

Austen-esque young women while away their time in elegant sitting rooms, reading to each other, playing cards:


Listening at doors (a fine comic image):


Falling in love (a nice rainy picture with a little hint of Markino about it):


There’s a bit of comedy discipline in the school room.


But discipline breaks down and the tables are temporarily turned:

act 2 004

There’s a series of balls of course:


With the regulation row of expectant young women:


Some flirtation, from the Miss Livvy alter ego, with a pair of dim young men.


Thomson is mostly known for monochrome illustrations but his coloured illustrations to the play show he was just as good with colour.

There’s a certain amount of watching from windows:

act 4 002a

Gossip in the street:


A bit of drawing room intrigue:


Some game playing as the penny starts to drop:


And eventually a reconciliation as the supposedly ailing Miss Livvy turns back into Phoebe.


Sorry, some spoilers there. But I imagine the pleasure of actually seeing the play would lie in the repetition of familiar tropes rather than novelty. As with Evelina, Thomson seemed to have liked the journey but been less concerned with the denouement.

Quality Street was filmed more than once. A 1927 version featured Marion Davies,the mistress of William Randolph Hearst. There was also a 1937 version featuring the young Katharine Hepburn as Phoebe.

Katherine Hepburn in Quality Street

This still is quite a close match to one of Thomson’s illustrations.


The play contiuned to be revived. Our local theatre the Finborough Theatre in Finborough Road did a version in 2010.

But all that passed me by and until very recently the name only meant tins of chocolates.

Quality Street was an innovative product first sold in 1936. The company invented a device to wrap the sweets in coloured paper and conceived the idea of putting them into a tin . This made the product cheaper than boxes of chocolates with individally wrapped sweets. Harold Mackintosh combined aspiration with nostalgia by naming his product after the play. Some readers may remember that the tins used to feature a pair of characters know in the trade as Miss Sweetly and Major Quality who were always depicted in a vaguely Regency / mid-Victorian setting probably suggested by Thomson’s pictures. As I recall there were TV commercials featuring the two as well, especially at Christmas where they merged with the general 19th century Dickensian season of bonnets and crinolines. .

QS tin

You can see that Miss Sweetly has moved forward a couple of decades in terms of fashion but Major Quality’s uniform still resembles that of a traditional red-coated British officer. It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that Thomson played a part in the creation  of our Christmas iconography.


Although I’d never heard of Thomson when I first came across that edition of Evelina, once I started looking I found plenty of examples of his work and I’ll probably return to him again in the future. Like Randolph Caldecott  (another book illustrator who made a contribution to the idea of Christmas) he was one of those artists who could perfectly complement an author’s work and at the same time create his own imaginative landscape. He has led me to other book illustrators whose work we can look at in the next few months.

I have to thank Peter Collins of Westminster Central Reference Library for graciously allowing me to examine the original limited edition of Quality Street signed by Hugh Thomson and to scan the coloured pictures. The black and white images come from a much more lowly 1938 edition. Thanks also to Susie Hilmi for transporting the book and brokering the deal.

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