Monday, April 16, 2007

A right Royal show...

This is a snapshot of a rather splendid (local artist) print of the Theatre Royal in Grey Street, Newcastle, that my parents bought me as a Christmas present in the 80s. It is of great sentimental value to me as it is one of my favourite buildings, another "Matchless Matcham" Masterpiece. It hangs in the lounge and has been in all of my houses in pride of place. Let me tell you why it has such special memories to me.

I took a break from my rock & roll venue crew lifestyle in late December 1975 to have a go in live Theatre. It wasn't a great loss to Rock & Roll- we had a resident Circus (starring Planet of the Apes, no less!) at the City Hall. (I found a poster on ebay- not from Newcastle but the same show!)

I was well known at Newcastle Royal to Ernie Savage (the chief LX) and Andy Kent (the Deputy), having called there intermittently since I had been 14 to scrounge gel (colour filter) and get tantalising tours backstage. I bumped into them in town one day just after school had broken up and they offered me a casual job as a showman, OP (Opposite Prompt, i.e. Stage Right) Electrician for the Panto. The show was Robinson Crusoe and the headline act was Mike & Bernie Winters (& Schnorbitz, of course).

The show itself was a really easy one to work, with only half a dozen cues. In act one, I was handed a plug from Ernie straight after a pyro flash had gone off, had to coil the cable up, step out onto the stage and hand it to the PS (prompt side- i.e. stage left) electrician behind the ship set. I always got a kick out of this- I could see all of the audience in the auditorium (on four levels) but they couldn't see me as they had been momentarily dazzled by the flash going off.

For the second half, an old wing mounted spotlight (a Strand Electric Pageant) was focussed for cross lighting then later on it was re-focussed (& re-coloured) onto some treasure for the pre-Finalé scene. I remember nearly coming a cropper one show by moving the light a bit too early before the stagehands had cleared one of the 18' flats (side wing scenery pieces) when we got in each other's way. There wasn't much room stage right and I was just being overly keen.

Being on the payroll was a transformation- previously I had been a nuisance to the doorman, now I was waved in and got to sign the staff book. We were technically meant to be in the building by "the half" (which is 35 minutes before showtime) but in practise they could cope as I was subject to the vagrancy of the buses.

By theatrical illusions were shattered on the second day, however, when Ernie spied me in the half, gave me a plunger and asked me to go up to the Male Chorus Dressing room!

I was paid £1.97 for a Matinée and £2.02 for an evening performance- 5p for "anti-social hours. After about a week working the shows, the Number 3 came up to me about ten minutes into a show and asked "Can you work a Lime?". It turned out that one of the follow-sput operators had a death in the family and was on a compassionate leave.

My trip up to the stage left (audience right) gallery slips was a bit of a let down. Instead of a Patt 765 CSI as used in the City Hall, there was a rather old Patt. 93N complete with bakelite tumbler switch and a piece of card for dimming. I was told that I had to be aware of two things- I couldn't cover downstage left and the other lime couldn't cover downstage right so we needed to swap beams if the turns went right down there (e.g. to the stairs to rescue children for the singalongs). Other than that, there was only one scene where the limes needed to be tight- a ballet scene in front of a gauze where it was important to keep the beam off the gause to not spoil the transformation scene. We also needed to keep the limes off for the UV puppet scene, of course.

The benefirt of working front of house is that you get to see the show and working a big chunk of a season you get to see all the funny bits where the actors muck up and corpse. Before too long, I had to go back to school again (and the proper lime boy came back). However, I managed to do every Wednesday afternoon Matinée for the rest of the run as I had a free period (even if I had to sneak out of school and run for the bus!)

I was invited to a cracking end of run party at the Theatre and also an unofficial joint one with the cast & crew of the Sunderland Empire Panto (which was unfortunately a bit of a flop, even though Mike Winters turned up to support it).

Ernie suggested a casual job for me as relief board operator for Andy (working their hi-tech new MMS located in the Royal Box) but I had to supposedly knuckle down to my A levels, although I kept on working City Hall shows. Had I gone to Newcastle Poly as planned, that would probably have come to fruition, but that is another story.

P.S. David was hoping to meet Schnorbitz but he ended up meeting with Schnorbaby instead.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

That's a lovely building and I'm glad you have kept the picture and are not afraid to tell us how you feel sentimental about the place. Loved the story about what goes on in the background, so to speak, in a theatre. I adored Mike and bernie as a child!

Delicolor said...

Thanks, Welshcakes. I was going to lay off posting tonight after reading your disturbing story about your Mum, however I'll save my own demons for another day.

Liz said...

One of Husband's student jobs was in Derby Playhouse for a Christmas panto. One of his duties was to perch up ... somewhere, and drop a rubber chicken at the right moment i.e. just after the shot. You could have lots of fun with that, couldn't you? But maybe not if you wnated to kep your job for long!

Delicolor said...

Liz, I was involved in an Am-Dram Panto when I was a student/worked for GEC in Coventry in the late 70s.

I ended up as Stage Manager, in charge of Props. We had a very large hairy spider (called Boris, I think) that traditionally had to make several appearances on the last night, eased by a number of catwalks over the stage.

Another departure from the script was when the treasure (gold coins) was meant to appear at the end out of a statue- a toilet roll unrolled itself instead (followed by the coins, so the cast could recover!)

Not very professional- but then, we were amateurs!