As part of my quest to do pretty much every tour the Royal Shakespeare Company offer, I signed up for the Front of House Tour. I’d already done the Backstage Tour and the After Dark Tour, but the Front of House Tour offered even more history.
My tour guide was very knowledgeable and informative, full of fascinating snippets of history. We got to pop into the Swan Theatre auditorium, where the crew were changing the set ready for the evening’s performance of The Rover. I was fascinated to see that the first two rows of seats directly in front of the stage had been raised up: they form part of a lift, and I was amazed that in all the times I’ve been to this theatre, I never realised it was there.
The tour took in the front of house areas and the history behind them. The Swan Theatre, the first part built in the Victorian era, sadly burnt down and the auditorium became a conference hall, a WWII canteen and a dance hall before finally becoming a theatre again in the 1980s. During the recent building refurbishment not many changes were made, but a high desk was installed that can be lowered down to stalls level to allow the technical team to watch the performance.
The 1930s theatre was designed by a woman, Elisabeth Scott. The original foyer is now the Scott Bar in her honour. The original clock is still there, and the ticket sales desks now adorn the back wall. There is a hollow in the floor at the place where everyone stood to buy tickets.
When the theatre was refurbished in 2010, the original stage boards were installed just outside the theatre on each floor, so it’s impossible to enter the new auditorium without treading on them. I love the way the new theatre incorporates aspects of the building’s history.