Whirligig Theatre Company Archive and Related Materials

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains information of Whirligig productions and mainly consists of correspondence between David Wood and Whirligig staff, various theatres and (potential) sponsors.

Also includes publicity materials, educational material, photographs of the productions, audio-visual material, bookings for performances, fan letters annotated scripts, financial information, legal documents, copies of costume designs, stage positions and reviews.

Finally, it includes summaries of Whirligig’s history by David Wood and his reflections on Whirligig.

Administrative / Biographical History

Whirligig (W.S.G. Productions Ltd.) was set up in 1978 by David Wood and John Gould and aimed to provide primary school children with low cost seats for high quality children’s theatre. While educational theatre inside the classroom existed, Whirligig moved children’s theatre to mainstream theatres, many of which had never hosted children’s performances. Whirligig’s philosophy was to create plays that were entertaining for children and incorporated a problem or moral dilemma that children would find interesting using appealing characters and situations. Children’s theatre was at the time not considered to be particularly important and commercially viable due to the necessarily low prices for seats and Whirligig often struggled to break-even. Sponsorship was, therefore, essential and “Clarks Shoes” provided Whirligig with financial subsidy, free cut-out toy theatres and free programmes for all children from 1979 to 1983.

With Clarks’ support, Whirligig toured The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner, Nutcracker Sweet and The Ideal Gnome Expedition to venues such as Sadler’s Wells London, The Grand, Wolverhampton and the Royal Theatre, Hull. While the alliance won an ABSA award and the productions received much critical acclaim, Clarks Shoes was unable to provide further sponsorship after 1983 due to financial difficulties. With the help of the Arts Council and other sponsors, Whirligig continued to perform in the following years with The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See…, The Selfish Shellfish, The Papertown Paperchase and their most successful production The Gingerbread Man. They performed at, amongst other, Oxford Playhouse, Theatre Royal, Bath, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh and The Grand Theatre, Leeds.

While critics responded with much enthusiasm (The Times called David Wood the “national children’s dramatist”), the Arts Council never offered Whirligig regular annual funding. The uncertainty of regular funding and competing on an annual basis for Arts Council funding, latter which incurred considerable expense, affected the company significantly. Simultaneously, Whirligig started feeling the effects of the Education Reform Act, 1988, which decreed that education, including museum and theatre visits, had to be free. Theatres could therefore only ask parents for a voluntary contribution, which led to many tours and shows being cancelled. The years afterwards were marked by financial struggles and Whirligig did not manage their annual tour every year. However, 1999 marked a highlight, as The Gingerbread Man was invited to perform at the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, New York State. Eventually, Whirligig was closed during its 25th anniversary in 2003.

Two other significant projects were the adaptation of HRH Prince Charles' book The Old Man of Lochnagar and the adaptation of Dick King-Smith's book Babe, the Sheep-Pig, a co-production between Whirligig, Birmingham Hippodrome and the Library Theatre, Manchester, which was funded by the Arts Council and the Barclays Bank sponsorship scheme.

Other Whirligig shows are: Flibberty and the Penguin, The See-Saw Tree, Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish, Save the Human and Dreams of Anne Frank.

Other important Whirligig people are: theatre designer Susie Caulcutt, choreographer Sheila Falconer and musical supervisor Peter Pontzen.

Arrangement

This collection has been largely kept in the original order as arranged by David Wood. The collection is arranged as follows:

  • THM/387/1 - Early WSG Productions including The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See... and Larry the Lamb in Toytown, 1969
  • THM/387/2 - Flibberty and the Penguin (WSG Production), 1978
  • THM/387/3 - The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner, 1979
  • THM/387/4 - Nutcracker Sweet, 1980
  • THM/387/5 - The Ideal Gnome Expedition, 1981
  • THM/387/6 - The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See…, 1982
  • THM/387/7 - The Selfish Shellfish, 1983-1984
  • THM/387/8 - The Papertown Paperchase, 1984
  • THM/387/9 - The Gingerbread Man, 1985-1986
  • THM/387/10 - Channel 4 television production of The Gingerbread Man, 1986
  • THM/387/11 - Channel 4 production of The Old Man of Lochnagar, 1986-1987
  • THM/387/12 - The See-Saw Tree, 1987
  • THM/387/13 - The Selfish Shellfish and Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish, 1988
  • THM/387/14 - Various production material, 1987-1989
  • THM/387/15 - Save the Human and The Gingerbread Man, 1990-1991
  • THM/387/16 - Dreams of Anne Frank, 1993
  • THM/387/17 - The Gingerbread Man, 1994
  • THM/387/18 - The Gingerbread Man, 1997
  • THM/387/19 - Babe, the Sheep-Pig, 1997-1998
  • THM/387/20 - Non-Touring Year, 1998
  • THM/387/21 - The Gingerbread Man, 1999-2001
  • THM/387/22 - WSG Productions grown-up shows
  • THM/387/23 - WSG Productions grown-up projects
  • THM/387/24 - Papers relating to various commercial audio recordings of Whirligig shows and songs by David Wood
  • THM/387/25 - Whirligig children's letters, 1990-1999
  • THM/387/26 - History, reflections, legal documents and administration of Whirligig
  • THM/387/27 - Photographs of Whirligig productions
  • THM/387/28 - Posters for Whirligig productions
  • THM/387/29 - Stage plans for a number of Whirligig productions
  • THM/387/30 - Display boards relating to various Whirligig productions
  • THM/387/31 - Audiovisual material

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Gift by David Wood on behalf of Whirligig, 2014.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

Custodial History

WSG productions was largely run from David Wood's house and the collection remained there until the acquisition and physical transfer to the V&A in 2014. The files from Whirligig administrator, Barry Sheppard were added to the collection, prior to the transfer to the V&A. The files relating to WSG's legal affairs were handled by Harbottle and Lewis, London, and relevant documentation was transferred to the V&A directly. These files were added to the Whirligig Theatre Company Archive. Please see further details at individual file level.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to David Wood and Whirligig Theatre productions may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files. Material may also be found via the V&A's National Art Library catalogue.

Related archival collections within the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance are:

David Wood's collection relating to his career as children's playwright and writer is held by Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle. The catalogue is available via their website or on Archives Hub http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1840-dw

Corporate Names