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Tyne Theatre Building Tour
Newcastle Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Saturday 3rd September 2016
Next year represents the 150th anniversary of the Grade I listed Victorian masterpiece that is the Tyne Theatre and Opera house. Originally conceived by Joseph Cowan, the theatre is listed in the top 4% of listed buildings by English Heritage and has the highest rating from the Theatres Trust. The Preservation Trust that own the building are going to open the building on a few occasions in 2016 in order to share with the public what makes this theatre so special.
Our knowledgeable tour guide Alan led us into the Bistro Bar for a short video explaining some of the unique aspects of the venue during which we were given a tea or a coffee. It is clear from this outset that the theatre is in caring hands by a group of people who want to develop the building that they love so much. Everyone also gets an informative leaflet about the history of the building and the work of the preservation trust that own it.
With the safety curtain down we were then led into the main auditorium. This was a chance for Alan to describe the many features of the public side of the venue that one tends to miss when watching a show. He was also able to say why Placido Domingo loved the building when he came to perform Tosca here in the 1980s. For example, I wasn’t previously aware that the wood lining on the walls and ceiling help give the venue the acoustics which make it so suitable for opera.
Alan did a great job outlining the history from Cowen’s first concept, William Parnell’s tour of Italy in order to get ideas for his design through to the various impresarios that tried to do the impossible on stage. If I had a time machine I’d love to head back to the time of Augustus Harris who pulled off many a stunt on stage. Some of the changes needed to update the building were interesting, as the venue installed electricity and modified the hospitality facilities for the more well-off clientele.
The venue was the region’s first cinema to show talkies. Fortunately in turning the building into a cinema, Stoll didn’t rip out the theatre workings and hence, after a long campaign, it was able to return to its original use in 1977. The only trouble was that on Christmas day 1985 a fire destroyed a lot of the stage area. Compounding the problem, the remaining standing wall of the fly tower then collapsed in strong winds a few weeks later.
Fortunately the theatre has been rebuilt and the restoration revealed some structural details that had been previously miss in the auditorium such as the names of famous playwrights and composers.
The iron safety curtain was then raised to reveal the bare stage. Some of the group commented upon the rake/slope of the stage. The tour then goes on stage to look at the workings on the other side of the arch. A mixture of old and new exists behind the scenes. Hemp ropes can be found alongside the modern workings of the fly tower. Photography is permitted on the tour and plenty of snaps were taken of the view from the stage.
Of course, what makes this theatre special is what goes on under the stage. Before heading down, the modular nature of the stage was explained. The demon/angel/hamlet traps are in front of the various bridges that can lift the scenery (and cast if desired) from below the stage. We headed past the dressing rooms and the green room to see the wooden workings below the stage that can create the magic. Alan described how sailors were often deployed to pull on the ropes in order to make the apparatus work. As with all stages of the tour, Alan was willing to take questions about the workings of a theatre as he understood that the tour will be, for many, their first time back stage.
The hour long tour was highly illuminating. We got many a glimpse of the past but we also were given insight into how the Preservation Trust intend to continue to improve upon facilities and arrange popular programming so that the public continues to enjoy shows at this historic venue. It is an impressive jewel in the North East’s arts and culture crown and it plenty of unique features to make the tour worth while. Any profits coming from the operation of the theatre are now being reinvested into the infrastructure. This can be seen in the repainting of the Bistro Bar and the gradual improvements in the quality of the seating.
Tours can be booked from the website:
Heritage Open Days – Friday 9th-Sunday 11th September 2016 http://tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk/events/heritage-open-days-2016/
Saturday 8th October 2016 http://tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk/events/tyne-theatre-autumn-guided-tours-2/
Saturday 5th November 2016
Please note: Visitors with restricted mobility will have limited access. Tour includes lots of steps and comfortable shoes are recommended.
This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Carliol Photography (https://twitter.com/CarliolPhoto). Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Carliol Photography on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/carliolphotography .