Twenty-five curious Questers gathered this morning in the foyer at the Connaught Theatre. We were due to assemble at 10.20 a.m. but, having all reached a Great Age, we are now unable to be on time when we could be twirly
(as in too early - say it quickly.)
Our group organiser, Sue, is wandering around with a clip-board on which she is endeavouring to record our names as we arrive. Regular readers know Sue from the Singing
for Pleasure choir where she is Sue 2, as opposed to Sue 1 who sits next to me, with Sue 2 on her right hand side - would a diagram help, do you think? Occasionally Hazel will sit in between Sue 1 and Sue 2 which is fine by me. I sit on the end of the second
row of Altos, next to the fellas. It's a good place to sit in order to catch the ribald comments emanating from the Men's Section though I do often find it difficult to sing my part, when they are in Full Flow. I am not sure why I am rambling on about the
Singing for Pleasure choir, when this blog is supposed to be all about our Questers "behind the scenes" visit to the theatre - maybe it's because choir starts again tomorrow after the Christmas break and I have one eye on the wintry weather.
Enough of such digression, let's get back to the theatre where Mark and Sam are all prepared to show us around, at the same time entertaining us with anecdotes from Times Gone By. On our way into the auditorium, our attention
is taken by a display of black and white photographs of famous plays - and players - who have trod the boards at the Connaught since 1935. The printed captions are rather small, so we all have to stoop to peer more closely to check that yes, indeed, that's
Peggy Mount. And isn't that a very young John le Mesurier? It means that we are rather a long time arriving in the auditorium for the actual start of our tour.
We visit the dressing rooms where all the walls
have been painted a soft grey colour, somebody influential in the theatre having suggested this colour would have a calming effect. This seems at odds with the apparent existence of the theatre's resident ghost, known as The Lady in Grey. At least she will
merge into the background, as the most considerate ghosts do.
Now we are standing on the stage and Steve is showing us the kind of lighting plans he and his crew are sent in advance by visiting companies.
We all nod appreciatively because they look very, very complicated. We see the trap door through which Jack's famous beanstalk will sprout in panto season. And, look, here's the tiny alcove to one side of the stage from where Andrew Sachs used to direct proceedings
when he was Deputy Stage Manager at the Connaught many years ago.
We take the stairs down to what Mark calls, with relish, "the belly of the theatre" right underneath the stage. After which we climb up to
the dressing rooms and laundry room above the stage. We marvel at the narrow shower cubicles in each dressing room and wonder if the actors queue up to use them, and how they manage on so very few loos between them all. You can tell, can't you, that we are
all avid theatre-goers?
Next door we visit the Connaught Studio, which used to be called The Ritz, and which is undergoing major refurbishment which will introduce tiered seating and, hence, better viewing.
Everyone agrees this will be A Very Good Thing, particularly those who regularly patronise the regular Monday afternoon cinema where you get tea and biscuits for your £4 admission. We are taken up into the projection room where Mark introduces us to
the digital projector - no more massive reels of film, the new releases arrive on USB sticks, encrypted so that they can only be played on the specified dates. Did we know, Mark asks us, that the Connaught has the second highest figures in the whole of Europe
for audiences coming to watch André Rieu concerts streamed live from Foreign Parts? We didn't - but we feel ridiculously proud of ourselves for our home town's sterling cultural efforts.
Fraser's Bar (named after Bill Fraser whose photo graces one of the walls) we are treated to a welcome cup of tea or coffee and biscuits while we pore over old photographs and learn more about the history of the Connaught and those connected with it. Alan
Ayckbourn took to the stage at the Connaught just once - and completely froze. He was advised to find another career path and became, of course, one of our most celebrated playwrights. Think what might have happened had he remembered his lines...
On the way out of the theatre, I catch sight of a poster advertising a new show called "Monstersaurus" which will be playing on The Rascal's birthday weekend in March. Apparently the audience will follow a young inventor
called Monty and his adventures which are (and I quote) "monsterously good."
I must book immediately. There's nothing like a visit "behind the scenes" of a theatre to awaken your Hidden Culture Vulture...