Backstage tour proves a colourful treat at Northampton theatre

The Royal Theatre. Picture: Hollis
The Royal Theatre. Picture: Hollis

Lily Canter reviews Behind the Curtain at the Royal

On a drizzly Wednesday morning there is nothing like being whisked away to the Victorian era of top hats and covered ankles to explore the history of The Royal Theatre in Northampton.

The Royal's grand interior. Picture: Mike O'Dwyer

The Royal's grand interior. Picture: Mike O'Dwyer

Behind the Curtain is a theatrical retelling of the people who built, performed and watched the breathtaking productions that have graced the stage since 1884.

Our tour of around 20 people was met by the enthusiastic Erica who with nothing more than a clap of her hands and an evocative imagination soon had us believing we were local gentry attending Twelfth Night on the opening night of the theatre.

For the next 90 minutes we were led backstage exploring the unseen areas of the auditorium whilst learning about its colourful history via two engaging and informative storytellers.

It was fascinating to see first-hand how different classes of people enjoyed the theatre and the astonishing lack of health and safety in the 19th century which led to fire and suffocation.

Factual and anecdotal titbits were sprinkled with flourish throughout the tour from the use of the newly invented telephone to advertise plays to the ghostly Grey Lady who has become the theatre's unofficial mascot.

Halfway through the theatrical journey the magnificent safety curtain was explained in detail including its portraits of men and women associated with the stage and a walking stick connected to both Shakespeare and the Royal family.

Hollywood actor Errol Flynn, was of course given a mention owing to his time learning his trade at the repertory company, but there are also lesser known nods to Bram Stoker and Henry Bird.

Visitors were also given the opportunity to take a bow - and even a selfie - on the raked and rigged stage before seeing what happens in the wings.

The final part of the tour took in the production workshop where a small crew use metal, wood and plastic to create everything from intricate rock faces to mechanical dogs, making good use of the original paint frames which stretch sky high.

Our guide answered all manner of queries with great knowledge and her genuine love of the venue shined through. The only downside was the lack of a visit to the costume department or a view directly beneath the stage. But for just £13 this was a bargain of a tour that will entertain and impress history and theatre buffs alike.

Behind the Curtain currently runs until March 8 and will return again later in the year.