Did you know that the Theatre Royal in Nottingham did backstage tours for families?
Well they do! I haven’t had the privilege of one of these tours but my mum and the boys went to try out this experience recently and had a brilliant time.
Over to Granny Bernie….
We were welcomed to the Theatre Royal by David Longford, the Creative Learning Manager who explained that, although they have done theatre tours before this it was the first time they had done a family tour. There were around 32 people booked on this tour.
With the usual pomp and ceremony he introduced Ezekial Bone who is a real life actor and his theatrical presence set the tone for this informative and enjoyable tour.
He explained that in the Industrial Age of the 1800s, Nottingham changed from a market town into a city with mills and factories built and thousands of people arriving for work. Trading ships brought many commodities to the area and with the abundance of money in people’s pockets attitudes changed towards entertainment. With the advancement of gas lights to make the streets safer and the changes to transport and invention of the railways people flocked to Nottingham. The narrow medieval road opposite the theatre was called Sheeps Lane and, obviously as its name suggests, animals were herded up and down to market. Another name for it was Blood Lane as many people were trampled underfoot by these activities.
With an abundance of money in their pockets, people began to think about regeneration of the city. Two men, John and William Lambert, who had become wealthy, decided to build a theatre at the top of the hill opposite Sheeps Lane in 1865. The cost of this Theatre of Light and Drama was £15000 and it took six months to build it from Ancaster stone. It was built in the continental classical style as very rich people were doing the Grand Tour of Europe and ideas and fashion had changed to incorporate Greek and Roman pillars and columns into architecture. The theatre accommodated over 2,200 people.
Charles John Phipps was the chosen architect and although only 26 years old he was a specialist in theatre design. He designed the small gas lite and whale oil lite theatre with all the latest technology of the times with gaudy fairground colours of blue, red, orange, green and yellow adorning the walls and ceiling. There were three balconies, the upper circle for the very rich and famous, the second for the well to do patrons of the city and the very top balcony ‘the Gods’ for the working man. The area in front of the stage, the inner sanctum, was standing room only and could fit in many people all jostling for the best spot to see the performance.
On the first night William Lambert and his family were in a private box and John and his family occupied the circle balcony with the Duke and Duchess of St Albans in the Royal box. All were greeted with cheers by the working class who occupied the cheaper areas and before the commencement of the show the National Anthem was sung. You can imagine the excitement of it all!
It was interesting to learn of the great inventions and engineering skills needed to ensure the performances gave the paying public a great show. Ezekial gave us great descriptions of these marvels of their day. He made the theatre come alive with his words and you could almost feel the magic of it surround you. We were taken into the beautiful small theatre which now can seat 1186 people in safety with no standing room allowed now due to stringent Health and Safety. It is painted in a soft green and gold on the baroque plaster work. Breathtakingly beautiful. Later we took a backstage tour and were surprised at how huge this area was, full of pulleys and ropes, secret trapdoors and elevator systems. In the late 1800s the new electric lighting system was installed and the theatre was redesigned by Frank Matcham and the plaster work on the balconies was installed. This back stage area shares its space with the Royal Concert Hall next door.
In the 1970s the theatre was luckily saved from closure and nowadays the theatre caters for receiving shows as opposed to the Nottingham Playhouse which produces its own shows.
It was a very interesting and informative tour and the time flew by quickly, it was made fun by the antics of Ezekial who included the children by asking them questions and invoking their interest in performances, and he made the magic of the theatre come to life. It’s so obvious he loves his profession. The theatre employs many hundred of local people and educates and inspires everyone who visits it.
Why don’t you take a tour of this beautiful theatre and support it by attending the wide variety of shows performed there. It’s a little gem! You will have to discover for yourself why it’s considered unlucky to whistle on a stage!
The next family tour is scheduled for 2 June 2017 and tickets are on sale now.
Ezekial Bone offers a variety of excellent tours for Nottingham. I love the sound of the Guts and Gore one! Check out his website for more details..