Backstage At New Theatre
I have attended many a performance at the New Theatre. I have kept the ticket stubs for all but one performance, in what is eventually going back ten years. I have seen many plays with the occasional operas, ballets and other events. I could easily call it a second home. Opened in 1906, the venue is considered a theatrical icon in Wales and its reputation is just.
But a tour is something I had not had the pleasure to have. Potential work experience in high school had granted me a look of sorts at some areas backstage. I never had the placement, since they were only allowing one person at a time. It was a blow to be honest, but I have always kept a flame burning in hope for a job there, even through desperate attempts and occasional turmoil.
The tour itself was a delight. It was the realisation of how much goes on backstage. Even just the dressing rooms, though basic and dated were marvellous when you found out that certain actors and other performers had graced Dressing Room 1. I knew Laurel and Hardy, Anna Pavlova and more recently Anthony Hopkins had treaded the boards there, but didn’t know that Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith had as well.
As expected, the stage is much larger without a set on it. I recall a production of Alan Bennett’s Enjoy starring Alison Steadman, in which towards the end of the play most of the set was pulled away from the stage. The audience was then able to see the bare bones of the stage, which was very revealing and enthralling (how sad am I?).
The weights and levers involved in revealing the stage taps (theatre curtains), scenery and side curtains is staggering. Over forty levers are required in doing this and you could easily confuse one for the other and making sure not to jolt the leverage so as not to interrupt a performance or cause a health and safety risk.
Whilst on the stage, we saw the safety curtain fall down and could see that performers over the years had left their mark on the back of it with graffiti. Some stated what had been preformed with dates, others more political with ‘Free Tibet’. I doubt most audience members have any idea what is on the other side of the iron safety curtain during an interval. Our guide also discussed accidents that had happen over the years, which was mildly interesting. After all anything can go wrong with live performance
The tour was concluded in the newly renovated upper circle. Anyone who had ever sat in this part of the theatre would agree that the seating was a very uncomfortable experience. Though some of the prices up in the gods have increased, I will find myself up there and loving the experience. But I do wish they would lower the safety bar so it does not get in the way of the first few rows. I pity those who sat through Wagner’s Ring Cycle in the 1980s. But I would have loved to have seen it anyway (when will we see a fully stated production again in Cardiff?). Bring a cushion I guess
I know a lot of people tried to book for a tour. Hopefully they will have more in the future. Keep trying. It is well worth it.
IMAGE: Mark Turner