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Mayflower Backstage Tour and Matinee Performance of Singin’ in the Rain

On Saturday 18th June 2022 Probus held the first Event to include partners post Co-vid.

Twenty Members and Partners made an early start to be at the Entrance by 9.30 am.

Three guides took turns to tell us about the History of the Theatre, how it’s Art Deco roots had been preserved and how the backstage was set up and worked including the Laundry, the Dressing Rooms the operational elements controlling the scenery, the Orchestra Pit and on Stage to get a view that the stars get of the Audience.

We started the tour by trying 4 seating positions in the theatre. The Circle, The Dress Circle both boxes and the stalls. At each stop we were given some more History about the theatre.  Built in 1928 the theatre capacity is 2274. It was modelled on a ship with portholes in the walls. Built as theatre for live shows it was lucky to survive on a number of occasions. Talking Movies, which strangely was the story line of Singin’ in the Rain, was its first major saviour. Then as the film industry waned it nearly became a bingo hall. At this time Rock and Roll started playing to large audiences, and The Gaumont as it was then known, became a major venue for all the top Rock Stars. At the turn of the 21st Century the then Chief Executive took some risks to introduce top London shows which proved successful. Now the theatre is trying to provide a varied diet of Live Shows, Opera, Musicals, Ballet and Plays.

The views from the different seats were quite different. The circle looks down on the event, The dress Circle is at eye level, the stalls look up to the event. The consensus of our group was that the Boxes were the worst seats although they are the most expensive. The seats were difficult to arrange so you could see over the box front. Visibility of the corners was restricted. It was certainly not a good place to be unless you wanted a good view of the audience.

We then went back stage climbing numerous flights of stairs. The orchestra pit is a moving part in that for our show it was stage left. But a number of front stalls can be moved to enable large orchestras of up to 70 performers to be in the orchestra pit. The logistics of installing a whole stage set for a show is aided by a loading bay butting right up to the backstage. A double decker bus, a full -size helicopter and a live crocodile have all come through the back doors.

We got a very good insight into how hard the wardrobe staff work, Any garment touching the skin of the performers has to be washed/dry-cleaned ironed and dried for every performance. Which for a matinee day is twice a day. Between shows around 3 hours a show with a large cast the wardrobe staff are tested to the limit.  One anecdote was a lady had starched and ironed 90 shirts in 45 minutes. Needless to say a few of our ladies wanted her telephone number.

The dressing rooms were quite sparce. They had a dressing room 1 and 2 for the stars. But after a few incidents caused by the assumption dressing room 1 was superior. The dressing room names were changed to East Dressing room and West dressing room.

Control of the scenery is managed by an array of ropes. Each labelled and marked as to their function for a performance. They are also counter weighted to make pulling them easy. Getting the right rope pulled, the right distance and the right moment is quite a challenge.

Finally, we went on stage to see what the stars see. A vast expanse of seats. Hopefully in their case a vast expanse of cheering, applauding bodies.

Attached are some photos of the views, also the Probus group with the guides, (the guide are the young ones)

With 3 hours before the start of the Show Rob Morgan had organised a lunch at Papillon, a converted church restaurant. Having submitted a pre-order for everyone we all sat merrily chatting until someone noticed 45mins had passed and no starters had arrived. It was clear all was not well in the kitchen. Rob had a stressful time trying to conjure up first the starters and then the mains followed by the puddings. We all made it to the show with time to spare.

The show was a light hearted, funny story about how stars in silent movies did not have the voices to be stars in the talking movies. The silent star having to move over for the girl with both the singing and talking voice required for talking movies. The highlights of the show being the 15,000 gallons of water used to close the first act and the finale. Those in the front stalls were treated to a free shower. The capacity audience around 2274 people gave the cast a standing ovation at the end. It was a timely reminder that we can again get out and enjoy some good entertainment.

Thanks to Rob for organising a great day out.

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