Two years ago, almost to the day, we went on the most amazing tour of the Southbank Centre. It involved donning high vis vests to visit closed off spaces and I loved it – an absolute highlight of 2015. I can’t even remember why I was on the Southbank Centre website a few weeks back, but I noticed that they were advertising more tours and being the efficient nerds we are, Tim and I decided to combine this with a backstage tour of the National Theatre. What an excellent Saturday.
We met our guide in a very peaceful National Theatre foyer where we were immediately given high vis vests again. YES! I now know this to be the hallmark of a brilliant tour. There were about 10/15 people on the tour, a mixture of ages, quite a few Americans, but a nice respectful bunch who asked (mostly) sensible questions. After hearing a bit about the history, we were taken into the back of the Olivier theatre, where crew members were going through a tech rehearsal. I did try to make an effort in listening to the wonderful tour guide as she talked about the drum revolve and the fly tower, but it was so fascinating seeing the action on the stage.
It’s a beautiful theatre and brought back great memories of seeing Everyman there a few years ago. From the Olivier, we went over to the Lyttelton theatre which was all set up for Jane Eyre. It’s really odd being in a brightly lit and empty theatre, but you really get to experience the venue, rather than the performance. We were taken around the back of the stage (where the photo at the top was taken from), saw the props all laid out, costumes hanging up, and a Henry Hoover ready to go.
From there, we walked down the main ‘road’ behind the stages, visited the carpenters shop, and peered down into the props department from the walkway. Even though it was a Saturday, staff were still busy at work creating amazing sets and props, including very realistic looking pizza.
The final part of the tour took us through the offices and dressing rooms, where we saw Bryan Cranston’s name on a door, reminding Tim that he has tickets to see Network, and enabling me to snag his spare ticket. Back to the Olivier I will go in January.
The second tour of the day was the architecture tour of the Southbank Centre, sadly without high vis jacket. The tour mainly took us around the public areas so it didn’t really add much to the one we did a couple of years ago although we did get to go into the empty Royal Festival Hall where some musicians were hauling instruments on stage for that night’s performance. What a treat.
I was able to boast about my stay at A Room for London which I am always happy to do for a willing audience (can’t do it enough to be honest) but the rest of the tour wasn’t ‘backstagey’ enough for me. They do have a bunch more tours scheduled for the rest of the year, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to go on the actual behind the scenes tour.
After we said goodbye to our tour guide, we went back to the National Theatre to try to catch a glimpse of something referenced on our tour. We were told that the dressing rooms have windows that overlook a private courtyard and on press night, the actors all stand at their windows banged on the glass as part of a longstanding tradition. According to the guide, you can just about see the courtyard from one of the outdoor terraces.
Off we scampered, and whilst we didn’t find the courtyard, we did find a secluded garden, great views over the south bank (and also people trying to work with two idiots running around outside). Every time I visit the Southbank, I discover something new.