Royal and Derngate in Northampton reveals newly restored safety curtain after 45 years of service

Originally painted in secret, the curtain has been wowing audiences since 1978

By Max Pearson
Friday, 1st April 2022, 3:10 pm

The Royal and Derngate theatre in Northampton has revealed its newly restored safety curtain, brought back to its best after 45 years of service.

Completed in 1978 by nationally acclaimed artist Sir Henry Bird, who passed away in 2000, the curtain is painted in the artist’s trademark flamboyant style.

The stand-out artwork has risen and fallen over countless productions, but that service had a cost as the colours began to dim and parts started coming loose.

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The stunning restored curtain at the Royal theatre. Photo: Chris Lowe.

So, with funding from a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant as well as the Northamptonshire Community Foundation, the theatre turned to local restoration experts Chroma Conservation, headed by its founder Marta Sledz.

According to the theatre, their work has brought the brilliant divider back to former glories.

Erica Martin, 42, who acts as creative learning associate for the theatre, said: “The design is is just stunning. It took over a year for Henry Bird to paint it and the best part was that it had to be done in secret.

"There were many people who worried that he was a little bit too eccentric in his designs, so they waited until press night to reveal it, when all the photographers would be there. Once it was seen in print, there was no taking it back.

"It kind of tells the history of the theatre up to the point it was made. It carries the crest of Northampton on it and the colours represent Northampton as well.

"You’ve got the gods of drama, of music, of comedy and the god of mischief too which I especially enjoy.

"At nearly every performance you’ll see people saying ‘wow, look at that’ when the curtain closes. A lot of children enjoy the cheeky Cherubs that it has, especially the one with his bottom out.

"Now it’s been restored, the colours look breathtaking and we’re even seeing little details we never saw before."

During the restoration, the team even found a small hole in the curtain which contained a signed shirt from Henry Bird, who had hidden it inside back in 1978.

The curtain also features portraits of important figures throughout the theatre’s history, including builder Henry Martin, actor manager Lionel Hamilton, designer Tom Osborne-Robinson, barman Denis Richards and Northampton Repertory Company actors Errol Flynn and the artist’s wife Freda Jackson.

Councillor Adam Brown, deputy leader of West Northamptonshire Council, said: “The restored safety curtain is incredibly beautiful, and the work carried out by the team involved has revitalised a unique piece of art that is treasured by so many theatre goers in Northamptonshire.

"At a time when our local arts venues are continuing their recovery from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the restored curtain is a happy reminder that in Northampton we have a flourishing theatre complex with a broad range of shows offering something to people from all walks of life.”

The theatre is also holding a competition with Chris Lowe, of digital art studio One Brown Bear, where schoolchildren can submit their own safety curtain designs.

The winner will have their design projected on the spot as if it is hanging over the stage. The rest will be displayed in a gallery on the theatre’s website.