On 23rd of August a coach full of U3A members set off for a visit to the London Palladium. We were to be treated to a backstage tour. On arrival we met our guide, Mark Fox, of the Really Useful Group. This company owns the theatre. Mark quickly proved to be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, funny and passionate about his job. After an initial chat about safety and a potted history of the area we were gathered in, we began our tour – (Aided by two former ‘Tiller Girls’ in costume, who were deputed to ensure no one got lost !) – Our first stop was in a newly renovated area of the theatre. This had been a gift from Andrew Lloyd Webber on the Palladiums’ 100th birthday. We were treated to a history of the building which had begun its long life in 1650 as the country home of the Duke of Argyll. At that time it was completely surrounded by green fields and a lake! After many interesting and varied incarnations, it opened as a theatre in 1910, just before Christmas.
Walter Gibbins owned it and the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham designed it. He designed over a 100 theatres and no two buildings were ever the same.
What originally began in 1910 as a Music Hall, and very successful it was too, quickly developed into THE place to be for really big names in entertainment. A place where they all wanted to perform, and see their name in lights. There was far too much said, and all of it interesting, to go into here! Suffice to say that two and a half hours of history, anecdotes, reminiscences and poking into surprising corners, like the Royal box, was a great experience.
As our tour progressed it became clear that the fabulous shows which we pay to see from the seats in the auditorium, are far from the glamorous dream. Backstage is just another workplace, albeit one that ultimately creates wonderful illusions. This working area is small, practical and extremely well organised. I expect it would also be very hot and airless when an entire cast and crew are there. Not so glamorous backstage at all, just every day reality.
What was very clear is that it must be hard work putting on theatrical shows of quality, and also very expensive and complicated. Seeing the props and the scenery for the current show both on the stage and behind it, was absolutely fascinating for a theatre buff like me. I was also amazed that the beautiful Edwardian auditorium seats well over 2000 people and can be reconfigured to suit each shows’ requirements.
Steeped in a long and fascinating history, this building of great charm has so many stories to tell. An interesting and very different visit, and a brilliant day out. Terri
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