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© James Hyland 1998-2020

Brother Wolf Emblem with Words

"For in and out, above, about, below,

'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,

Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,

Round which we Phantom Figures come and go."

~Omar Khayyám


The penny gaff was a popular entertainment for the lower classes in 19th century London. It consisted of short, theatrical entertainments which could be staged wherever space permitted, such as the back room of a public house or a small tent at a carnival. Unsophisticated, the props and scenery rarely consisted of more than a stage. Sketches, freak shows, and songs all featured in the penny gaffs. Some of the sketches were reworkings of classic tales such as Sweeney Todd whilst others introduced fresh characters such as Varney the Vampire and the London folk demon Spring Heeled Jack. Other popular outlaw characters included highwaymen and pirates. Such performances were viewed with dismay by the moral authorities of Victorian England. They were appalled by their irreverence and questionable content. Some shows did have moral points to make particularly about disparities of wealth and poverty. Whilst others enjoyed exposing vice amongst the upper classes, as well as focusing on the freakier and altogether more horrific aspects of human nature: "A great part of the proceedings were indecent and disgusting yet very satisfactory to the half grown girls and boys present... Explicit portrayals of hump backed dwarfs, prostitutes, sodomites, harridans, murderers, lunatics, street urchins and grave robbers groped past against a narrative background of workhouses, whorehouses, gaols, execution yards, thieves' kitchens, asylums and cemeteries, all performed in the same lurid fashion for what can only be described as a night of degradation, dressed up in the lowest and blackest form of comedy.”


The London Shadow Show

Written and Produced by James Hyland

Radio Pilot: Directed by Jonathan Rigby

TV Pilot: Directed by Nick Mandri and Gabriel Amaral