Unicorn Theatre (Photo: Steve Cadman on Flickr)
Okay, so I know the Unicorn Theatre is supposed to be a children’s theatre, but I’ve enjoyed several productions there myself – Othello: The Remix, Mister Holgado, and Cuckoo, to name just three. I also love exploring backstage, so I was happy to sign up for the Unicorn’s backstage tour.
It’s a quiet time for the theatre at the moment, as the new season has only just begun, so there were only three of us on the tour. We were taken around the theatre by technician Matt, who was very informative and friendly.
The tour began in the foyer, where we learned about the history of the theatre. Founded by Caryl Jenner, the Unicorn began as a travelling theatre in the back of a van in 1947. This building at London Bridge was purpose-built during the 2000s, and there is a foyer and cafe as well as two auditoriums. We moved into the Clore auditorium first, which is the smaller of the two spaces within the theatre. The current show, Seesaw, is aimed at very young children, and it was fun to watch the staff arrange the space for the next performance, rearranging the sand on-stage. This is a “black-box” space and as such is very versatile.
The tour took us to the dock, where pieces of scenery are brought in and sometimes built, followed by the dressing rooms and the Green Room. We also got to see the costume department, where many of the more unusual costumes (such as the monster outfit for Not Now, Bernard!) are created. I was intrigued to see that, among the boxes marked “Buttons”, “Socks” and “Ties”, there was a box marked “Dead Animals”!
Going higher up, we entered the larger Weston Auditorium by crossing the stage and taking a seat on the blue benches. We learned about how the space can be used – it can be a traditional proscenium arch theatre, or the front stage-level seats can be removed and the performance can be brought forward as a curved thrust stage. We got to climb up to the Circle – which is only open to audiences during particularly busy performances – and even higher, to the Upper Circle, which is reserved for technicians only. We were shown the workings of the theatre – the lighting and the rigging for scenery.
One of the best parts of the tour was saved until last. We got to go up to the roof garden, which is normally reserved for staff. This small paved area has amazing views over London, and it is also home to two pet rabbits, one of which was actually used in performances of The Velveteen Rabbit.
This concluded our tour. I had a great time and I learned much more about the Unicorn. If you have kids, do take them to this theatre. If you don’t – who cares, go anyway, it’s great!
View from the Unicorn’s roof