As most of us know, theatres have had a pretty rough time of it lately. Closed for months on end and then, when they could finally open again, shows still had to cancel as either actors or crew tested positive for COVID.
Now, as the country is starting to get back to normal again, so too are our theatres. At over 200 years old, Brighton’s Theatre Royal is one of England’s oldest theatres and one of the few that still use the traditional hemp ropes to manually pull scenery, curtains and lighting rigs up and down above the stage.
I spent a day with the theatre from when they first opened to after the last member of the audience had left and it was quite an eye-opener for me. I have taken production images of many shows over the years but I never sat and thought about just how much work goes into putting on a show each day. I never thought about the washing machines and dryers constantly on the go, cleaning and turning around the costumes ready for the next performance. Or how the touring crew and the resident crew would meet for the first time and have to seamlessly work together to build the set (which doesn’t always fit every stage) in a short amount of time ready for the first performance.
The day I spent at The Theatre Royal Brighton was the first day that Footloose was at the Theatre Royal Brighton. It was also the day the set arrived, which meant it was a very busy day. The lorries arrived at 8AM and curtain-up was at 7:45PM. The equipment had to be brought in and unloaded from three lorries, the set had to be built, lighting had to be set up according to the plans, wardrobe space created and organised, all whilst the general running of the theatre continued with cleaning, ticket sales, office duties and general maintenance of the building.
It is not surprising that, despite the crew working non-stop, everything was only readied moments before the curtain went up.
Before the performance, the actors relaxed, chatted in the dressing rooms doing their hair and make-up like they were one big family. Being backstage during a performance is incredibly special: seeing the eye contact and silent communication that went on between those on stage and those waiting in the wings; actors laughing off mistakes that the audience would never know about and then the celebration afterwards when the curtain finally went down to a standing ovation.
Shooting the images for this picture story was easy compared to the editing. How to edit so many images taken over 16 hours at the theatre down to just a handful was the hardest part as some of my favourites had to be culled in order to tell the story of the whole day.
The time, effort and devotion from every member of the cast, crew and member of theatre staff was impressive. Despite the obvious stresses that came from working to such a tight deadline, which might have sent any normal person over the edge, there was no shouting or swearing. It was still an incredibly friendly and welcoming atmosphere and it’s no wonder that people fall in love with being part of such a fascinating part of English heritage.
I for one and so pleased to see that our theatres are back up and running again. Go support them.