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Person looking out of a Punch & Judy booth while being photographed.


Child in gallery by large mask.

Masks, puppets and spectacular costumes from our collections shine in this atmospheric gallery. It celebrates the joy of performance, and storytelling rituals and practices from around the world.

Performance is part of life in Brighton, with its vibrant Festival and history of pier shows and street entertainment. In this gallery, we draw on large and smaller scale objects from our collections to celebrate performers, spectators and makers from around the world.

Our displays feature masks, costumes, and theatre sets that tell stories associated with different national traditions. Often accompanied by music or dance, they transport us to imaginary, unfamiliar worlds.

Child in gallery by large mask.
Parent and child look out from a Punch & Judy booth.

Shadow play

Puppetry is an important way of storytelling and expressing religious devotion in many cultures. Here, you’ll see examples of intricate, painted shadow puppets from Java, jewelled marionettes (puppets on strings) from Burma (Myanmar), and a rare group of Vietnamese water puppets representing historical and mythical characters.

A seaside favourite

Closer to home, there’s a Punch & Judy show, a perennial favourite in the Victorian and Edwardian eras that also acknowledges Brighton’s history as a popular seaside resort. Local highlights include items donated by Brighton DJ Fatboy, and ‘Mother Time Keeper’, a spectacular lantern costume created in 2000 by Nicola Gunson to mark Brighton’s traditional Burning of the Clocks winter solstice celebration.

Costume is a key part of any performance, and our displays include the formal dress of an 18th-century English gentleman, an outfit belonging to a 1950s Pearly Queen, and the glittering, theatrical attire of a 1960s Burmese dancer.

Parent and child look out from a Punch & Judy booth.