Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre. crack
The curtain came down on the last show at the Everyman until September on Saturday, 30th April. The following Monday was a Bank Holiday but by mid-day on the Tuesday most of the seats had been removed and the theatre had opened its new show - a five month run as a building site. Hopefully this will not be a restoration comedy.
I went along a couple of days later and the scaffolding which was to fill the auditorium was already being erected. The old seats had all been sold at £25 each and several rows were lined up on stage awaiting collection. By then all the carpets had also been taken up leaving a sticky residue which fixed you to the floor if you stood still too long.
The stage was covered in sheets of thick plywood to protect it and, as well as the seats, all the scaffolding poles and fittings plus dozens of ventilator grills which had been removed from the floor were arranged in neat piles.
With all the seats out the auditorium looked much smaller but strangely the stage, now stripped bare, looked a great deal bigger and you were, for once, able to see its full height.
I climbed the long stone staircase which leads up to the Balcony to the site office which is situated in a small office next to the lift shaft. I was issued with a hard hat and a fetching yellow jacket by Paul Fletcher who is the site manager for the work’s main contractors, Speller Metcalfe of Gloucester.
We leaned on the Balcony rail surveying the activity below and Paul explained what was going on. “The scaffolding comes all the way up here, up to the ceiling where there is a lot of work to be done. The scaffolding will be basically circular to fit around the Dress and Upper Circles, we call it a birdcage. There will be a bridge from the balcony for access to the ceiling for the artists and specialist plasterers.”
Inset into each of the four corners of the domed ceiling are small, beautifully painted allegorical scenes painted on canvas. These date back to the original theatre and although hardly visible, they will be removed and taken away for restoration.
“We are also doing some work inside the dome replacing the walkways. All the work will start at the top and work its way down so we can remove the scaffolding as we go.” Paul explained.
One of the most delicate and time consuming jobs will be removing all the layers of paint from the proscenium arch to restore it to its former and original glory. Under all the nasty pink paint is a fabulous faux marble arch. It is almost indistinguishable from real marble and was made by a patent process known as scagliola.
The original sections were created off site and brought from London to be fixed in place. The material was said to be as durable as marble itself and when polished would be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. A couple of large patches of the scagliola have already been revealed and seem to be in excellent condition and really do look like marble. And don’t forget this was 120 years ago, long before hi-tech, synthetic and very expensive kitchen tops.
This is the first theatre Paul has worked on and he was amazed by some of the techniques that had been used in its construction. ‘It’s really exciting. We just cut into one of the plaster scrolls under the boxes and it was so simple.’ Paul was even more amazed when I told him the entire theatre had been built in little more than six months. “You couldn’t do that now,” he said. “With modern techniques it would probably take a couple of years.”
We moved down to the next level and standing in the middle of the naked Upper Circle I asked Paul what were the biggest challenges facing his team. “I think it’s got to be the logistics really. The access to the building is not good but thankfully we have the hoist out the back. And being in the centre of town doesn’t make things easier either.”
The hoist in question is the main access to the stage; it’s where all the scenery for the shows comes in. It is accessed from the service road for the Regent Arcade but the road is one level higher than the stage so everything must be loaded from the trucks into the lift and brought down. It’s going to be the same for all the materials used for the restoration.
There isn’t any major constructional work happening with the restoration except for the recommissioning of the two boxes either side of the stage. Originally they were held up by wrought iron pillars but when these were removed in the 1930s the boxes began to sag and became unusable. Paul explained what’s going to happen. ‘We are going to put a vertical steel under the corner with L shaped steels coming off it. They will then be decorated with moulding to match the figurines in the boxes themselves.’
We made our way down to the stalls where workmen were taking some old sofas they had found front-of-house out to a waiting skip. On stage another guy with a noisy circular saw was cutting timber so I took a few pictures and left Paul and his team to get on with it.
The work is well underway and by the time of the next issue a lot of the specialist painting work will have started. I am going to pop in at regular intervals to take pictures and talk to the people involved. There’s going to be an awful lot going on in the next four or five months and I hope to be there every step of the way until the splendid, fully restored theatre opens again at the end of September. Watch this space.
What you’ve seen or what you’ve missed
FINAL DAZE was the last professional show to grace an Everyman stage before its temporary closure. Again, modesty inhibits me from telling you what an extraordinarily amusing show it was, so I shall just leave you with a couple of productions shots showing Andrew Thorn chatting-up Wendy Abrahams (top) and Robert Whelan trying to impress Steven Rayworth. Thanks to all of them for being fab way beyond the call of duty.