Backstage Tour of the Young Vic

The Young Vic exterior showing the three different sections.

Recently I was lucky enough to take a free backstage tour of the Young Vic which were running as part of the BBC Get Creative Weekend.

We started outside with our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Daniel, where we discovered that the Young Vic is a building of several parts, and the oldest section actually started life as a butchers shop. Incredibly, although I’m a regular visitor to the Young Vic I’d never really clocked the original tiles and signage or the meat-hooks hanging in the box office! There’s even a photo just inside the door of the building back in the butcher shop days.

The Young Vic exterior showing the three different sections.
The different sections that make up the Young Vic. The medium sized Maria space is the brown piece on the left-hand side and the main house is the metallic section on the right. The glass section in the centre is the bar and restaurant, and the oldest part of the building is where you enter just under the red ‘Theatre’ sign.
Young Vic entrance, where you can see the original butcher's shop signage under the neon.
Look under the neon and you can see the original butcher’s shop signage.

 

We started off with a visit to the main house which seats about 500 but is completely flexible so can be laid out differently for every show. We saw the simple but brilliant set of a giant plug and plug socket for current show If You Kiss Me Kiss Me which sounded really exciting – a combination of gig and dance show performed by Jane Horrocks, with a live band and a team of dancers.

The biggest surprise for me was going into the Young Vic’s Maria Space, their medium sized venue which seats about 150 although like the main house it’s a flexible space with endless staging possibilities. Recently I saw the moving A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing here, with an end-on stage. Another terrific show I’ve seen in this space was Bull where it was transformed into a boxing ring with audience sitting and standing around the playing area. But today there was absolutely nothing in there. Really nothing. No set, chairs, no rostra…and even the door where I’ve always entered was locked and barred high up in the wall above our heads. It’s amazing how an empty room can be so inspiring!

We had a walk through the offices – which even include a lovely little roof garden – and spotted some of the various departments that keep the Young Vic’s heart beating. I also discovered that the Young Vic is home to several associate companies – 1927 (I was lucky enough to catch their incredible Golem at the Young Vic – a fusion of animation, live performance and music), Belarus Free Theatre, BirdGang and the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme.

We finished off with a quick visit to costume where a fabulous array of hats from past shows were suspended above our heads and the costume supervisor was kind enough to answer our questions about the department.

This was such a great opportunity to find out more about the work of the Young Vic and a treat to see into the theatres and backstage areas. The Young Vic offer backstage tours for local schools but no regular public programme, so if ever you get a chance to join a one-off tour like this, I’d urge you to come along and find out more about this great place!

You can find our more about all things backstage tour on my website

 

London Coliseum Guided Tour

London Coliseum

London Coliseum

Where: London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4ES

When: Currently running Saturday mornings

What’s on: The London Coliseum is home to the English National Opera (ENO) and runs a varied repertoire, all sung in English. You can also see ballet and now musicals too.

How: You can book online or by calling the box office on 020 7845 9300

Cost: Full price £10, concessions £8, school tours £5

Duration? About an hour

London Coliseum facade
London Coliseum facade

The London Coliseum is home to English National Opera but was actually built as a Palace for the People, a Hall of Varieties.

It came up in 1904, the brainchild of Sir Oswald Stoll who can actually be seen in the foyer, but not as a simple statue or bust – oh no, Sir Oswald’s face is incorporated in a much more interesting and unusual way! To find out where, take the tour, or when you go to see an opera, see if you can spot him in the throngs of people!

The building was designed by the exceptional theatre designer Frank Matcham, and there is a nod to Classical, Baroque and even early Art Nouveau in the amazing architecture.

We learnt all about the fascinating history and characters behind the London Coliseum and what is was like for audiences in the past, where sedate and elegant tea-rooms sat where the bars are now!

We went into the beautiful auditorium, where you can get a surprisingly good view from the very reasonably priced Balcony seats – something I have much experience of enjoying!

London Coliseum stage during a changeover between two shows
London Coliseum stage

The theatre was a hubbub of activity as a new show was being built into the theatre. There’s relatively little space behind the stage, and sets are stored off-site, so every change in the repertoire requires huge lorries to take the sets in and out.

ENO lorry transporting all the sets
ENO lorry

We could actually see daylight sparkling onto the stage where the huge dock doors were open at the back of the building…and when I had a look from the outside at the end of the tour, I could just make out the red velvet seats from the road!

The dock door at the rear of the London Coliseum
The dock door at the rear of the theatre

We then made our way through the offices and backstage areas of the building. In the staff canteen you can see a few remaining parts of the original stage machinery that allowed effects such as a show of the Epsom Derby – complete with racing horses!

We finished off with a visit to the sizeable orchestra pit, which gave a good feel of what the auditorium looks like from the stage, and had a sit in the fancy stalls seats.

London Coliseum stage during a changeover
The stage

Verdict: The London Coliseum is a beautiful building that I really knew very little about before this tour, in spite of having attended many operas and ballets here. It was great to learn more about the history and we really left with a feel for how this building has changed over the years.

For more about backstage tours, visit my website backstagethearetours.com

Royal Court Theatre: Building and Backstage Tour

Grade II listed Royal Court Theatre facade
Original Royal Court signage
It looks so contemporary but this the original Royal Court signage, now in the theatre’s bar

Where: Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, SW1W 8AS

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

What’s on: The Royal Court is first and foremost a writers theatre and runs an exciting programme of predominantly new work

How: You can check times and book on their website

Cost: Tickets £7 or free on Open House Weekends

Duration? About 90 minutes

Grade II listed Royal Court Theatre facade
Grade II listed Royal Court Theatre facade

The beautiful building dates from 1888, and spent time as a theatre, then a cinema, before being bomb damaged in WW2. It re-opened in the 1952 with the English Stage Company and artistic director George Devine, committed to discovering new writer and creating new work. The third play they premiered was George Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, a play that changed the face of modern British theatre.

The building closed for refurbishments for a few years in the 90’s and re-opened bigger and better in 2000, extending underneath Sloane Square. The architects were briefed that the theatre owes everything to it’s past but looks only to the future.

 

We started our tour in a cozy corner of the bar called the The Ladies Room…made, fittingly from what were previously  ladies public toilets, donated from the council to the theatre!

The whole building is filled with little stories and unexpected discoveries. Mirrors turn out to he secret doors. A wonderful piece of public art extends through the levels front-of-house. The lift talks to you in the voices of several famous actors. Elements such as the window covers are grilles from those ladies toilets. Even the offices are incredibly well-appointed and contain two of the original auditorium doors. Impressively, the whole building is fully accessible for visitors and staff alike.

The red wall - public art with markings that show where the sunbeams hit it during the day.
The red wall – public art with markings that show where the sunbeams hit it during the day.

 

We visited both of the theatres. The little Jerwood Theatre Upstairs has always been associated with risky work, it can be totally transformed and the design of the building makes it feel as though you are climbing into a secret attic where anything can happen.

Jerwood Theatre Upstairs Royal Court
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs

The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs was currently home to the new Caryl Churchill play …and the stage was mainly covered with live grass which we were unable to stand on. But we still got to go onstage and feel how wonderfully intimate this performance space is. While we waited our turn to stand onstage we checked out ‘writers row’ where writers typically sit to watch their play in previews. The seats all bear the names of famous playwrights.

Jerwood Theatre Downstairs auditorium
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs auditorium

Royal Court auditorium detail of ceiling

The named seats on ‘Writers Row’:

John Osborne's seat on writers row, Royal Court

We had a great look backstage as well!

Backstage - the scene dock
Backstage – the scene dock
Looking up into the flies above the stage at the Royal Court
Looking up into the flies
Royal Court scene dock from the outside
Royal Court scene dock from the outside
Royal Court Stage Door
Stage door

Our lovely guide had so many great stories to tell – which I won’t give away…you have to go and hear them on the tour!

If you want more backstage tours information, visit backstagetheatretours.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

In Praise of Tourists

De Witt sketch of an Early Modern Theatre
De Witt sketch of an Early Modern Theatre

In 1596, a Dutch traveller Johannes de Witt visited the Swan playhouse, and drew a sketch and wrote in his diary about the trip. And it’s lucky that he did! This is the best resource we have of what the theatres of Shakespeare and his contemporaries looked like.

Yet flip forward a few hundred years and I feel that tourists don’t get the appreciation they deserve. A ‘production for tourists’ says less-then-impressed Dominic Cavendish reviewing Richard II at the Globe, as if all visitors to London want to do is see a Beefeater, snaffle a Ye Olde Hog Roast and drop in for twenty minutes of gawping at Elizabethan Theatre. (And even if you do fancy a bit of of ye olde fayre does that mean you can’t appreciate good theatre too?)

When I was in Paris – as a tourist – I went to the Comédie Française to see Troïlus et Cressida.

I wasn’t quite sure how I’d handle Shakespeare in French (I can make polite conversation, do well with food & drink and read OK) but I was desperate to see inside the theatre and I was slightly familiar with Troilus and Cressida from attending an original pronunciation production in the pelting rain at Shakespeare’s Globe. (Not my favourite night I’ve ever spent in a theatre but…interesting.)

I absolutely loved it! I splashed out for a really good ticket, and it was an absolute bargain. I was personally guided to my luxurious red velvet seat and settled down to somehow I understood and enjoyed every moment of the play. To this day it’s one of the best Shakespeare productions I have ever seen. So although I was a tourist, I think I was still a pretty exemplary member of the audience and I definitely had and appreciated a high-quality experience.

To be fair, I have on several occasions seen tourists – from both the UK and abroad – nip into the Globe for a ten minute flash of a play and then depart, no doubt feeling they’ve ‘done’ the Globe. (I’m ashamed to admit that certain members of my family, not tourists at all, have also done this. ‘What was the play?’ I asked. ‘Don’t know.’ ‘Did you like it?’ I said. ‘Don’t know really, we only stayed for a few minutes.’ I seethed silently.) But is this better than not visiting the theatre at all? I’m still undecided on that. I’ve many times led tourists on backstage tours and I have to say that 99.9% of the time it’s a delightful and for me as a guide, often an enlightening experience. I’ve met wonderful people from all over the world, many of them passionate about theatre and with the most fabulous stories to tell of their experiences in their home-town theatres, both professional and amateur.

Frankly I’m thrilled that so many tourists want to come to London and have a taste of our theatre and I welcome any visitors with open arms. And tourists – in return, just google the story of the show before you see it and try to stay to the end. (Unless it’s awful, in which case leave quietly at the interval with my Londoner’s blessing.)

For more visit the Backstage Theatre Tours website

Life through a lens: Why I like my live performance live

Reading this fascinating article by first BFI ambassador actor Tom Hiddleston, I was particularly struck by his description of the audience armed with smartphones — hundreds of blinking, bright, white lights facing towards me… each creating their own, subjective, digital narrative.

 

It made me reflect on where the urge comes from to mediate a live event through the lens of a smartphone, and what the reasons are for doing so.

Is it to film and share as a proof of attendance? A souvenir or memory-trigger to return to in the future? Or is the very act of filming and online sharing in itself a validation and essential part of the whole experience?

To be honest, I don’t know and suspect I never really will. Hiddleston’s Wikipedia age is 34, and assuming this is reasonably accurate, we’re both from a generation who, in the main, didn’t get a mobile phone until our late teens. Our ways of receiving and experiencing live events were laid down before the technology came along.

I bought my first mobile when I was 17 with a staff discount from my Argos weekend job. It was a now brick-like but then sleek-looking, monochromic Nokia with very exciting snap-on snap-off covers. In my first year at university we all marvelled that meeting up was so easy because we could text one another. My first encounter with a digital camera was via the Japanese students in my 6th form and all through my childhood photos were restricted to 24 precious snaps – and you had to wait for the prints to see the results. My whole attitude to filming and recording was shaped in a different medium and a different world. Sharing was a phone call, an email, or a text. (Rarely a letter – that was for an earlier generation!) Narrative was created afterwards, not an instantaneous send.

So it’s hard for me to project why recording and sharing the live image is so pervasive. When I go to the theatre, in particular, I want to see, hear, smell and experience with my own senses, not via a screen. Admittedly, a lot of my reservations are created by the annoyance factor. I hate seeing glowing phone screens around me when I’m trying to experience live theatre or any other event. It’s distracting and disruptive. But the way the technology is going, it seems likely that filming will become less and less obtrusive and sharing will become more and more discreet. Will I still feel the same when I don’t have a clue if the person next to me is filming or not?

Somehow, I still suspect I’d consider myself a superior consumer of culture by ‘doing it live’ rather than mediating through the smartphone. And perhaps this is ultimately an old-fashioned and rather arrogant view to hold. Maybe the concept of ‘live’ in this age of lip-synching popstars and virtual performers is a shifting thing. Maybe live theatre suffers so much when it comes into conflict with smartphone mediation because it’s an art form originating from before this technology started to change the way we as human beings relate to our environment. Perhaps new art forms need to grow that embrace, mingle, and co-exist with digital culture. It’s easy enough to refute this for the next 5 or even 10 years, but what about in 50 or 100 years time?

Of course, I like to think that the human appetite for liveness will always be appreciated, recognised and felt. It’s inconceivable, and quite sad, for me to imagine a time when I’d prefer looking at my tablet or phone to the exhilaration of experiencing the thrill of live event sans screen. But is this genuinely the privilege it feels like, or is my entire understanding of this issue coloured by limitations I don’t even perceive?

On the other hand, as part of a generation who was young enough to become au fait with the technology, and grow with it as it developed, but old enough to remember a time without, we are in a unique position to mediate between a dependence on technology, and a willingness to allow it to bring us to places we never imagined. One reason I find new technologies so exciting is because I appreciated the thrill of holding a slender, beautiful ipod or tablet for the first time, and remembering a time when this was a futuristic picture in my mind, not a reality.

Even if nothing does compare to the ecstasy of the lived, live experience! (And that’s something I’ll tweet anytime…)

For more articles visit the website Backstage Theatre Tours

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Wilton’s Music Hall: History Tour

Wilton's Music Hall upper level and stage with panto set
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The way inside…

Where? Wilton’s Music Hall, London

When? Tours run on Mondays at 6pm

What was on? It was panto season! Their first family pantomime, Dick Whittington & His Cat

How?  Book on their website

How long? 1 hour

Cost? £6

Duration? 1 hour

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Wilton’s Music Hall and Mahogany Bar

Wilton’s Music Hall is one of those places I’ve always intended to visit but never quite made it. Until now! I wish I’d made the trip a long time ago as it’s a wonderful space with a fascinating history. Situated between Tower Hill Gate and Shadwell stations, it’s easy enough to find but still has this tucked away, secret feeling that makes visiting really special.

We started in the historical Mahogany Bar before moving into the hall itself. I took the opportunity to treat myself to a mulled wine (delicious!) and we discovered that this historic bar played a large part in the history of Wilton’s. The bar was purchased by Henry Wilton several years before he bought up neighbouring land and property to open the music hall in 1869.

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Beautiful interior of Wilton’s

Sadly Wilton’s, like other smaller suburban halls, was a victim of its own success. The acts became famous and hit the bright lights of the West End, the new and improved transport links meant that audiences followed suit. For many years Wilton’s was kept as a Methodist Mission with a school and soup kitchen, which ironically ensured the hall’s survival to this day.

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The tours are devised by Wilton’s resident researcher and historian and our marvellous guide had an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of the hall. I was particularly struck with the depth, quality and detail of the research and there has to be the roots of several PhD’s waiting here. I’d urge any academic or student searching for a thesis topic to check it out, or indeed anyone with a interest in theatre history who would like to find out more! There is now a history room including a 3D model of the building, a display of excavated items and an introduction to some of the characters associated with the music hall. There are also some very interesting articles on the website 

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Upper level and set for the panto on stage!

At the end we were able to wander about and take photos (a real bonus) and most of us took the chance to explore the upstairs bar too – not to get a drink (yet) but to look into some of odd little nooks, crannies and spaces that came about from converting the terraced houses into the music hall.

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Stairs up to the cocktail bar

A booklet about the history of Wilton’s is currently being published and will soon be available. I’ll be dropping back in to pick up one of those. Happily, the future now looks bright for Wilton’s and it has a full and buzzing programme of theatre, music, events, and more!

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Wilton’s sits inside a series of terraced houses so there are lots of little nooks and crannies

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Verdict: Wilton’s Music Hall is a magical little place and this tour is a fascinating insight into the history of the hall, the local area and music hall generally.  I will definitely be returning!

Check out backstagetheatretours.com for more theatre tour reviews!

Royal Opera House: Backstage Tour

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden entrance

 

 

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Royal Opera House, Bow Street

Where? Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD

When? Tours run daily but they are very popular and do book up well in advance.

How? You can check times and book on their website

Cost? Full price £12, senior citizens and students £11, under 18’s £8.50

Duration? About 1 hour and 15 minutes

ROH exterior
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden entrance

The Royal Opera House is one epic building. Substantially renovated 1997-1999 it runs a huge repertoire of world-class opera and ballet, both new productions and revivals. Two previous theatres on this site burned down (a sadly typical tale in theatre history!) and the current building dates from 1858.

Not all tours get to go into the beautiful auditorium but mine was lucky enough to do so (Monday 10.30am – we managed to slip in just before a rehearsal of Eugene Onegin) I’ve seen a few things here – Romeo and Juliet, Aida, Swan Lake – but I couldn’t claim to be a frequent visitor so it was lovely to see the space again. (If you really want to see the auditorium, you can take a Velvet Gilt and Glamour history tour).

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The beautiful Royal Opera House auditorium.  (By User:FA2010 (Own work) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons)
However, even without the auditorium, the backstage tour would still be a terrific experience and there is an absolute plethora of things to see. For this reason, no two tours of this maze-like building are ever quite the same.

The mind boggles at how much information these guides need to carry with them!

What I loved about this tour is the real sense you get of the ROH as a working building. Our extremely professional and knowledgeable guide led us through busy backstage spaces and it really feels like you’re experiencing a genuine slice of ROH life.

We got to see a ballet class and had a peek at the incredible machinery that allows swift changes from one complete set to another. Then we stopped by the costume stockroom where the lovely staff were kind enough to share their expertise. They explained all about how the costume department works at the ROH, and their roles in particular, as well as answering all of our questions. It was absolutely fascinating.

I know several people who have been on this tour again and again and I can see why. There’s a wealth of things to see and the tour is generously allowed into as many spaces as possible.

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Paul Hamlyn Hall from the outside. Completed in 1860, it started life as a flower market and was known as the Floral Hall.
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Paul Hamlyn Hall interior. Once a flower market, now an elegant champagne bar and restaurant. You can’t take photos during the backstage tour but there are so many lovely front-of-house spaces to snap afterwards!

Verdict: Absolutely brilliant. The Royal Opera House is an amazing building and this is a high-quality tour experience. Treat any opera or ballet fan, or indeed any kind of theatre aficionado to this and they will thank you forever. One warning – you will almost certainly feel an overwhelming desire to return for another tour…I know I do!

For more information visit the Backstage Theatre Tours website!