Charles Dickens was a sickly child, and while other boys played cricket and other active games, Charles read books. When Charles was six or seven he wrote a play, Misnar, the Sultan of India, which he performed with childhood friends. The manuscript for Misnar has not survived.
When Charles was nine or ten his cousin James Lamert made a toy theater for him, which enabled Charles to visualize and perform plays based on his extensive reading, which included Roderick Random, Tom Jones, and The Arabian Nights.
Toy theaters were popular children’s playthings during the mid-nineteenth century. They were distributed by a number of publishers, including Skelt, J. K. Green, and Pollack. The toy included an abbreviated story, with parts suitable for young readers. Sketches of the characters and sets were printed on heavy paper stock, and these could be positioned inside a tabletop stage. Children cut out the sketches, and reassembled them to create the various scenes in the play.
If the cutouts were uncolored they were sold for a penny; if colored, for two pence.
Exhibited here is a toy theater script and cutouts for Oliver Twist, which was distributed by Green in 1846. Oliver Twist was the only novel by Dickens to be adapted for toy theaters. The sheet shown below is plain (that is, uncolored) and sold for a penny.