Backstage on A Tale of Two Cities
Backstage on A Tale of Two Cities
11 October 2016
by Rebecca Marano
Young Reporter Rebecca Marano heads backstage to see what it's really like behind the scenes...
“Oh, I’m getting a backstage tour of the Alhambra,” I told the girls at work, the smugness of my shrug not hiding my excitement one bit. A few “aaah’s” and “ooh’s” later and off I went to the theatre. After some bumbling around trying to locate the stage door, I was pointed in the right direction by a young man who was adamant he’d seen Cinderella heading that very way. Cinderella? Pah! Was he not aware this was a Dickens tale? I sure was, for I was getting a backstage tour. How incredibly showbiz of me.
After this kind young sir’s help, off I wandered towards the stage door. I arrived at the reception fidgeting excitedly, eager to begin my guided tour. I’d arrived early due to the likelihood that I would get lost (in the city I’d lived in my whole life no less) and so I sat down gabbing with the fantastic Sheila, who is Stage Door Keeper, while I waited. Soon enough, I was collected and escorted through the building towards the stage.
My delusions of grandeur, of the bright lights, extravagant sets and the very glitz and glamour of show business soon dissipated as I walked through the narrow corridors towards the stage. The chipped, mint green walls reminded me of my old school days. The scent of microwavable curry one of the cast members was reheating wafted into my nostrils. It wasn’t the glamorous backstage I’d come to expect from films, but in some bizarre way, this brought me some degree of comfort. It was nice to know that the talented people I’d see perform the night prior, were at their core just ordinary people, the kind who probably stand impatiently waiting for last night’s curry to reheat.
I joined producer Neale Birch on stage towards the back end of a tour he was giving. As I waited, I marvelled at the beauty that is the Bradford Alhambra. I’d always known it was big, having sat in each tier more than a few times, yet as I stood on the stage looking upwards, I was overwhelmed at the sheer size of it. It is absolutely vast. It was absolutely surreal to be stood on the stage I’d looked down at a mere twenty-four hours previously. Now I got to the set up close, and examine each intricate detail of it. It was perfect for the show for its simplicity and at closer range, you can really see the historical elements in all their glory. It looked fantastic even without the aid of the lighting.
Once I’d come to terms with the surreal nature of being stood on the stage, Neale led me backstage to begin the tour. He explained about the general backstage set-up, whilst the stage is always the same size, no matter how big the theatre, the backstage can greatly differ. Luckily for the Two Cities Tour crew this week, the Alhambra offers quite a large area for them to manoeuvre. Neale explained that usually the crew can be in and set up in around six hours, but it then takes a day or so fine tuning the particulars such as lighting and the incredibly heavy sliding doors. The doors themselves are difficult to push across the stage, but as Neale tells me, it’s necessary for them to be so sturdy and durable to survive the rigour of an eleven-week tour. It requires two 45ft wagons to transport them around the country, if that gives you an indication of their size!
The best part of the tour for me was seeing the costumes and props up close. The outfits were magnificent to look at. They were so historically accurate that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Neale had told me they’d been preserved from Dickensian times. He did tell me, however, of the great deal of time spent trying to source the exact costumes. The Touring Consortium Theatre Company hires the costumes and so it is vital to the to pick the perfect piece for the characters. They have a Wig Supervisor and a Wardrobe Supervisor, who, alongside extra help from the Alhambra staff, put together the perfect costume. What definitely surprised me was finding out just how historically accurate the women’s costumes were — huge weighted skirts and tight laced corsets. As an audience member I awed at them, but I bet they were incredibly difficult for the actors to wear! It just goes to show how much effort the cast put into making their performances truly authentic. And speaking of authentic, don’t expect the theatre company to ever use fake props! No, this production went all out on the props, with their real silver daggers (blunted, of course) and genuine handwritten notes. Thankfully, the guillotine wasn’t quite so realistic...
Handwritten note used in the production: Gabelle writes to Darnay informing him of his situation in France
A Tale of Two Cities opens at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it plays from 10 to 17 September 2016. It then tours to Oxford Playhouse, Richmond Theatre, Bradford Alhambra, Blackpool Grand, Wolverhampton Grand, Brighton Theatre Royal, Edinburgh King's, Cheltenham Everyman and Nottingham Theatre Royal.