Forget entertainment, theatre has carved a more important role as a source of escapism as 2016 hurtles to a turbulent end. At least that’s one of the reasons Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop manager Simon Seddon can offer for why business is booming at the theatre inspired toy shop in Covent Garden, where others are have long closed their doors for good.
“People want to immerse themselves in this world, it’s almost like a lifestyle brand,” he says, nodding towards the hoards of customers flicking through the flat-packed toy theatres arranged around the cramped shop at the top of the marketplace. “And they need that escapism – we’re a necessity, we wouldn’t still be here if we weren’t.” Pollock’s specialises in traditional toy theatres – both original and reproductions – from around the world.
The range includes puppets, music boxes, books and games, as well as paper models, shadow boxes and dioramas designed exclusively for the shop by contemporary artists. The former offering is steeped in the shop’s history, which can be traced back to Hoxton in the 1850s. The original Benjamin Pollock made a living supplying theatrical sheets at a ‘penny plain and twopence coloured’ from his shop opposite the famous Britannia Theatre on Hoxton Street.
Pollock died in 1937 but his name and theatrical association continued, in various formats, until Marguerite Fawdry (also the founder of Pollock’s Toy Museum in Fitzrovia) opened in Covent Garden in 1980.
Current owner Louise Heard says she “came with the shop” having worked for former owner and Coronation Street star Peter Baldwin for many years before taking the reins almost a decade ago. She says the business is slowly moving towards more in-house production with a small stable of contemporary artists who regularly contribute new product lines. Some of the range has been on display at Liberty, Fortnum Mason and the Royal Opera House.
Prices range from models and games at a few pounds each to £250 vintage model theatres handmade in France. Pollock’s bestseller is a Cinderella Pantomime Toy Theatre for a very reasonable £15.95. Louise says it is important that the product range and pricing reflects the diversity of the clientele – from tourists with cash to splash to kids who have found themselves with a bit of extra pocket money.
However there is one thing you won’t find in amongst Pollock’s stockroom. “We don’t stock Hatchimals,” Louise says. “I can’t tell you how many times a day the phone rings with that question.”
As more customers file through the door, it’s clear the omission of the small furry creatures on every kid’s wish list doesn’t seem to have hurt business during the busy festive season. “I think nostalgia and tradition is something people want at Christmas,” Louise says. “It’s that time of year.”
44 The Market, Covent Garden WC2E 8RF