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The Green Room

Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre. crack

Restoration nears completion.
Work on the Everyman restoration is nearing completion.

The wonderful domed ceiling was finished in at the beginning of July. Not only was it completely repaired and re-painted but all the oil paintings that decorated it had been restored or replaced It was only when the scaffolding had been removed that the splendour of the work was revealed.

The painted panels had been restored or re-painted by a Bristol company, International Fine Art Conservation Studios, led by its director Richard Pelter. The company specialises in all forms of art restoration from conventional paintings to elaborate murals or ceilings.

They have undertaken restoration projects at Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Westminster Cathedral and another FrankMatcham theatre, The Gaiety in Douglas, Isle of Man. Paintings they have restored include works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Gainsborough, John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and J.M.W. Turner. They also work extensively abroad, especially on historic buildings in the United States. The IFACS staff comprises a fully-trained team of conservators with a wide range of professional qualifications and specialist skills. It currently employs 6 full-time members of staff who have considerable experience in various fields of conservation.

The work on the Everyman was about half restoring exiting pictures and half recreating them. The eight panels in the dome depicting birds flying in a cloudy sky were replaced with much better ones and the fragment of one of the paintings that used to hang in the foyer has been restored and re-instated. The paintings, which were mounted on the ceiling or at the top of the proscenium arch, were all painted on canvas in the traditional manner in the IFACS studios in Bristol, brought to Cheltenham and painstakingly cut to exactly fit the existing ornate plaster frames.

The décor, especially the ceiling is so beautiful that there is a danger that when audiences see it for the first time they may well spend more time staring up at the dome than watching the show on stage. Richard Pelter and his team along with the staff of main contractors SpellerMetcalfe and all the other specialist craftsmen involved in the project will certainly deserve a standing ovation.

Grand reopening announced
The Everyman will re-open on Friday 23rd September with spectacular show by Ken Dodd On the following Monday, the 26th the first play since the reopening will be TheMadness of King George by Alan Bennett starring David Haig. However, a celebration of the theatre’s reopening, as well as its 120th Anniversary, will take place on Sunday, 2nd October. A day of festivities is planned in Regent Street including a variety of stalls, a Punch & Judy, hopefully some live music and some people are even threatening to dress up in Victorian costume. The event will start at lunchtime and at 2.30 there will a 45 minute performance in the theatre aiming to re-create the atmosphere of the theatre’s opening night which starred Lillie Langtry. There will be various Victorian entertainments including music by Gilbert and Sullivan and extracts from plays and opera of the period and all for just £5.

In the evening there will be a much more lavish show along similar lines hosted by actor Robert Powell. Several actors and directors from the Everyman’s illustrious and varied past have agreed to attend the day’s festivities including, at the time of writing, Steven Berkoff, Josephine Tewson andWilliam Gaunt who were leading actors during the theatre’s 35 year period as a rep. Malcolm Farquhar who was Director of Productions throughout the 70s will be there as will David Gilmore, director of theWest End’s long running Grease, who started his career at the Everyman. Lots of other actors and celebrities have been invited so it promises to be not only a very entertaining event but a star studded one as well. All proceeds will go to the Everyman Development Fund.

The occasion will also mark the launch of my book on the history of the Opera House/Everyman, A Theatre for All Seasons, which is published on 30th September. Full of stories, personal reminiscences and pictures going back to the 17th century it is the most comprehensive work on the theatre in Cheltenham ever produced. A Theatre for All Seasons will published by JeremyMills Publishing Ltd. It has 196 pages with full colour throughout. Available initially in hardback it will be available from the Everyman and all good bookshops for £25.

The Young Everyman Company takes the stage
It’s not just the theatre itself that is going through changes and being revitalised. The theatre’s youth group has also been revamped and, come September, it will re-emerge with a new identity and lots of new ideas. PaulMilton, the Everyman’s Creative Director with responsibility for the youth projects explained. “The Youth Theatre has gone and we now now have The Everyman Young Company. We felt that because the group is now 25 years old and because of all the changes to the building itself, now would be a good time to bring it up to date.”

But will the new identity also mean a change of activities?

“There will be a slightly new slant on things with an emphasis less on production and more on training by industry professionals.We will still be mounting the same number of productions but we will concentrate on the acquiring of technical skills which will help the youngsters if they want to work in the theatre or go to drama school. For them it’s going to be less of ‘I go to rehearsals every week,’ but more of ‘I learn a skill every week which I can then apply when I’m in a production.’

We will have seven different groups. The group EveryKid will be for four to seven -years-old and we have other groups which cater for every age range up until eighteen. Each term covers a different aspect of work in the theatre so hopefully by the time they finish they will have a fairly complete grasp of how it all works.

“We want to make the kids aware that theatre is not just about performance; that all the other skills involved whether it be stage-management, lighting or costume are all important and it’s important that an actor should understand these things and appreciate and respect the people who do them.”

I asked Paul if he thought kids still had a sense of magic about being backstage at a theatre, as we did. “I think that they do still have a sense of awe. I see our kids walking in and realising they are somewhere special which certainly beats sitting in front of a computer or tapping away on a mobile phone. Being part of our Company they really get a sense of community and a sense of continuity. And it’s very good value at only £200 a year for the senior courses.

“Drama schools, like universities, are soon going to cost £9000 a year which many won’t be able to afford. I think things may well revert to the old way where you could not go to drama school and get a job as a Student Assistant StageManager and learn the job like that. Lots of famous people entered the profession like that and The Everyman Young Company will certainly point them in the right direction.”

A new book on the history of The Everyman Theatre is out now:

A Theatre For All Seasons by Michael Hasted.

Foreword by: Steven Berkoff