It was a dark and early start to the day when 38 TU3A members travelled by coach to the National Theatre on Thursday 12th January 2017, and it turned out to be extremely wet followed by snow sweeping across the motorway on our way home. Our driver, Rob, progressed steadily northwards through the South London traffic, past tattoo parlours, ‘open all hours’ shops and food outlets interspersed with the numerous denominational churches and occasional surprising architectural treasures arriving in good time for our welcome of coffee and biscuits in the NT cafe.
We had a while to wait until our tour was ready, so some of us went out for some very fresh air and a walk along the river, while others used the time to explore the Wolfson Gallery and view the interesting Art of Make Believe exhibition which depicted the staging of children’s classic stories and interactive acting skills.
We were split into two groups and taken around the National Theatre to view backstage work and the props department. Our guides, Emily and Sophie, were extremely knowledgeable about the history of the theatre and the work of the technicians.Prior to the design/building of the Olivier Theatre a team visited the wonderful theatre at Epidauros, in the Peloponnese, where they examined the acoustics and general layout/seating.These ideas they transferred to the Olivier, giving it the benefit of ideal acoustics and uninterrupted viewing. An NT Live production of Amadeus was due to be rehearsed ready for transmission in February in the main Olivier Theatre, so not only was there complicated lighting on hoists, and an array of cameras strategically positioned but there were also technicians doing sound checks around the theatre and on stage. There is what is called a ‘drum’ in the floor of stage, a sort of lift, which can be used to transfer tonnes of scenery on and off stage. Over this were runners for the false proscenium arch, part of the Amadeus scenery, to be brought from back to front stage when the script determines.
The other two stages, The Lyttleton and The Dorfman are quite different. The former a more traditional stage and the latter being completely open to the audience on 3 sides, and sometimes 4.
To finish off we were taken along the Sherling High Level Walkway, to look down into the huge warehouse spaces and watch artists painting scenery, making tables and some puppets out of expanded polystyrene. Carpenters were engineering huge sets of stairs. Every production is so different it is difficult to re-use much of what is made, so after a production run most is taken away for re-cycling.
The next stage of our visit was to arrive at the London Eye landing stage and board our boat for the trip down the river to Greenwich. By this time we were dodging puddles as the rain was seriously coming down, thankfully the boat was comfortable and warm and we settled down to a very entertaining commentary by one of the crew members, who pointed out buildings and bridges of interest, including of course the Houses of Parliament, the National Theatre, not the prettiest of buildings architecturally, Blackfriars and Tower bridges, many of the historical public houses and the Cutty Sark.
It was a short walk from Greenwich Pier to board our coach and we settled down, trying to dry out, allowing Rob to steer us safely through the blizzard which developed as we reached slightly higher ground.
Many thanks to the organisers, Neil Shilling and Geoff Sharp, for such a well organised and most entertaining day. We look forward to the next trip with TU3A.