During the early years of the nineteenth century children laboured in factories, down mines, up chimneys, at sea – and in the theatre. In this article, David Haldane Lawrence discusses the portrayal of child labour in the drama of the 1830s and 1840s, concentrating on five plays: The Factory Girl, The Factory Boy, The Dumb Man (or Boy) of Manchester, The Climbing Boy, and The Cabin Boy, whose child heroes extricate themselves from appalling conditions to confront their villainous oppressors, and through coincidental circumstances are elevated to a higher social position. But the realities of child labour are not fully portrayed on the stage, and the working boys of the period remain idealized figures. Here, a comparison is made between this idealization and the actual working conditions of child labourers. The theatricality inherent in the stage representation of child labour is further enhanced by the fact that the leading ‘boy roles’ were usually played by women, and the performances of the cross-dressed specialists in ‘boy roles’ is also discussed, as is the influence on ‘factory boy’ drama of socially relevant fiction, particularly Frances Trollope's novel about child labour, The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong the Factory Boy, published in 1840.