Richmond Theatre Backstage Tour

Richmond Theatre upper facade
Richmond Theatre facade
Richmond Theatre facade

Where? Richmond Theatre, Little Green, Richmond TW9 1QJ

When? Currently running Saturday mornings 9 January – 23 April 2016.

What was on? Cinderella – it was panto season!

How? You can check times and book on their website

Cost? Adult tickets are £8, ATG card holders £7 and Concessions are £5

Duration? About 90 minutes

Richmond Theatre upper facade

Richmond Theatre is a beautiful Frank Matcham building and also a busy receiving house now owned by ATG. Although they ran tours several years ago, there haven’t been any for a long while so I’m delighted they’ve started again and definitely didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I’ve been a reasonably regular visitor to Richmond Theatre over the years and it’s a lovely space to be an audience member, with really good sightlines and an interesting and varied programme.

But how do things look from the other side of the curtain?

The original pit entrance door at Richmond Theatre
The original pit entrance. Nowadays we all get to use the grand staircase and doors!

We started outside and heard about the history of theatre in Richmond and how this building fits in which gave us a good context before heading inside, and backstage.

Because the tour focussed very much on the current production (the very last of the pantomime season!) this is a tour you could do again and again. I especially enjoyed hearing all about the stories from the pantomime – Cinderella’s amazing transforming dress, the (real!) minature Shetland ponies – just to name a couple! Best of all, it was clear throughout that our guide loved the theatre and was so full of enthusiasm to tell us all about it and make us love it too.

Richmond Theatre red, gilt and velvet auditorium
The beautiful auditorium
Richmond Theatre's beautiful auditorium ceiling
Richmond Theatre auditorium ceiling

We were able to stand on the stage, which is always a highlight, and we spent a good amount of time there too, looking at the set, peering up into the flies and out into the auditorium while our guide explained how everything worked and answered all of our questions.

Looking down at the Richmond Theatre blue stage
Looking down at the stage
Looking up into the Richmond Theatre fly tower above the stage
Looking up into the fly tower directly above the stage

Everything always feels a lot smaller from the stage, so it was great fun to go into the circle after and see how the false perspective made everything looks so much bigger and grander.

The chandelier and painted ceiling in the main foyer
The chandelier in the main foyer. The paintings are by a famous interior designer and TV personality…take the tour to find out who!

Richmond is quick and easy to reach from central London by underground or National Rail and the theatre is just a short walk from the station. It’s also a pleasant place to spend a day. You could start with a backstage tour, have a bit of a mosey round the attractive town centre or walk up Richmond Hill, and finish off with a matinee performance, still giving you time to head home before a Saturday night out! Or for a real theatre fan, why not start at Richmond for a tour then head back into London for a tour of one of the big modern spaces like the Barbican or the National Theatre as the contrast is fascinating.

For more backstage tour information visit backstagetheatretours.com

Barbican Henry IV Backstage Tour

Barbican Centre Lakeside Terrace entrance. Concrete and glass.
Barbican Centre exterior. Main entrance with concrete and glass.
The Barbican Centre

Where? Barbican Centre, Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS

What was on? The RSC were in residence. Henry IV Parts 1&2.

How? Book online on their website. Tours on offer vary depending on what is happening in the theatre.

Cost? £10.50 each plus booking fee. Members, concessions and under 16s: £8.40

Barbican Centre Lakeside Terrace entrance. Concrete and glass.
Barbican Lakeside Terrace entrance

The iconic Brutalist Barbican Centre building – which is Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue – was completed in 1982 and sits at the heart of the Barbican Estate. Much of the Barbican is built below the ground and at times you feel like you’ve entered a huge subterranean world!

Barbican detail of ceiling lighting. Blue squares in a circular concrete hole.
Barbican detail of ceiling lighting

It’s an odd sensation to go underground to get into the theatre, and every level you descend the walls change to a different lurid colour. The deeper you go, the brighter it gets.

The wonderful thing about the Barbican Tour is the amount of backstage access you get. By the time you’ve finished this tour, you really feel like you’d had an insight into how this theatre works.

We went half-way up the fly tower – the tallest in Europe, in its day – and looked up into the grid above and down onto the stage below. We descended under the stage and saw where a live orchestra can sit, and where the actors go when they vanish through trapdoors! We even saw a few bits of the paper ‘blizzard’ still remaining from the recent Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch.

As if this wasn’t impressive enough, we also had a chance to go on the stage itself. Although this auditorium has more than a thousand seats, the space looked and felt quite intimate from here and it was great to look up and view what we’d seen from the fly tower from the actors’ point of view. It’s also interesting to see the unusual projecting upper levels of seats which ensure everyone gets a good view in this theatre – although you might need a bit of a head for heights if you are near the top!

We continued by walking around the sides and rear of the stage, taking in a range of props, weapons, costumes and set making this tour a terrific accompaniment to seeing the show.

Barbican Estate from the Lakeside Terrace
Barbican Estate from the Lakeside Terrace

Barbican Centre exterior

Verdict: I was so impressed with this tour. We took the most incredible route, there was lots of great backstage access and I feel like I know the Barbican so well now! It’s the kind of tour you’d want to come back and take again for different productions. You can also explore the Barbican further with an Architecture Tour. Why not team it up with a National Theatre Architecture Tour for a full day of concrete enjoyment?

For more about backstage tours visit backstagetheatretours.com

The National Theatre: A Tour for Every Occasion

National Theatre backstage tour in the Olivier Theatre
National Theatre entrance
National Theatre

Did you know the biggest factory in central London actually sits on the bustling South Bank overlooking the River Thames?

It’s the impressive National Theatre, an iconic building which as well as being home to three permanent theatres, contains extensive production workshops. This is because the National makes every aspect of its shows onsite and everything from the wigs and costumes to the vast sets are constructed here.

The National Theatre runs a repertoire system, switching between two (and sometimes even three) plays every few days in each theatre. This means they can stage around 30 plays a year and there’s always lots to choose from.

Best of all, the National Theatre runs a range of great tours which give you a chance to see some of the action.

National Theatre backstage tour in the Olivier Theatre
Ship ahoy! National Theatre backstage tour in the Olivier Theatre in front of the set for Treasure Island. [Image copywright National Theatre]
Backstage Tours run daily and you can check availability and book on the website. Exact timings vary because tours of this busy working building have to fit around the demanding schedule of running around 30 plays a year. Tours are led by one of the National Theatre’s dedicated team of knowledgeable and entertaining guides and no two tours are ever the same which is very exciting! You never quite know what you’re going to see, but a typical tour usually includes visit to at least two of the theatres, as well those incredible production workshops where the sets and props are constructed. You might see a new set being built in, you might see a change-over between two plays…you just never know!

Occasionally special post-show tours are offered which give you a chance to walk on the stage and have a close-up look of the set. Get in touch with the tours team to find our when one of these is next running.

Younger children would love one of the Family Tours which run at half-terms and holidays. These are a bit shorter than the standard backstage tour and everyone gets a chance to try on costumes at the end. The National also runs on-request tours for parents/carers with babies so get in touch if you’re interested in one of these.

Special occasion? Team up a backstage tour with a delicious theatrical-themed afternoon tea in fine dining restaurant House on one of the Tea and Tour packages.

If costume is your passion you definitely need to sign up for a Costume Tour. These run less often and only accommodate small numbers so there’s a waiting list for places but it’s definitely worth the wait! As well as visiting the workshops where the costumes are made you get to see into wigs hair and makeup (or ‘WHAM’ as it is known). You’ll see wigs being prepared for the shows that day as well as new costumes being made for future productions.

National Theatre flying buttresses looking like a giant cubist composition
National Theatre flying buttresses looking like a giant cubist composition

Personally I’m a big fan of the concrete (one of the seven wonders of London say Time Out ) and you can get to know the building better by taking one of the new Concrete Reality Architecture Tours. You’ll find out more about architect Denys Lasdun’s vision, discover how those soaring pillars and terraces stay up and explore some of the sparkly-new redeveloped NT Future spaces.

National Theatre Tours also pride themselves on being accessible. The Contego system, an easy-to-use wireless listening device, is available for the hearing impaired (including hearing aid users) and step-free accessible routes can be arranged in advance. Contact the tours team in advance of visiting to discuss any access requirements.

Finally, if you don’t have the time to take a tour, or if you want to make a day of sit, spend some time wandering around the amazing building and terraces as it is open to the public. There are several free exhibition spaces, including the Lyttelton Lounge where you can access content from the Archive on your smartphone. Or if you just want to relax, grab a coffee and freshly made cake from the Espresso Bar or Kitchen cafe and make use of the free WIFI! (Tip: if you want to see the original wheels from the drum revolve, a massive scenic elevator that sits under the Olivier stage, you can find them enjoying a second life as tables in new riverfront bar Understudy. And have a nice craft beer while you are there!)

With so many great tours to choose from, several bars and restaurants, lots of public exhibition spaces and that great South Bank location, it’s easy to make a day of it at the National Theatre!

Find more backstage tour info at www.backstage tours.com