I spend a lot of my time in theatres. Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones. Mostly I’m sitting in the auditorium, and when my day job does involve working behind the scenes, it’s normally in a rush of whatever event happens to be taking place. So I decided to take the opportunity to get an insight into my local theatre at a more relaxed pace.
ATG offers tours around the New Wimbledon Theatre (which it started managing in 2003) on the last Saturday of every month at £10 for a 90-minute tour – although if you get lucky like me, you’ll get a guide whose enthusiasm means the tour runs closer to 2 hours!
I only found out about the tour from a single email during the week, and the low level of marketing might explain we were a group of just four on Saturday. But I’m not complaining: the small group meant we got a lot more chances to ask questions and get a slightly more personalised experience. Tour guide Sherry Plant, who has worked on the stage door for 10 years, clearly has a lot of love for the building, and her affection spills out into an exuberant tour that covers architecture, ghosts, star performers and heating systems.
Since it’s owned by one of the UK’s largest commercial theatre companies, it would be easy to assume this receiving house is a bit soulless and corporate. But you can see that ATG have taken care to preserve and restore the history of the place. If you stop and take note next time you’re passing through the building, there’s a plethora of beautiful details, from original stained glass to the angel that tops the dome. You really get a sense of the heritage of the place, the importance of the Wimbledon Theatre (as it was originally) in the creation of grand, suburban theatres, and what theatre-going was like in the early 20th century.
It’s a shame the tour doesn’t take in the top of the dome or more of the backstage areas that audiences don’t usually get to see, but I would assume health and safety regulations are a barrier to this. However, there’s enough in the auditorium and bars to fill the time – and you do get the special treat of standing on the stage as the iron is raised, taking in the full height and grandeur of the theatre. I particularly enjoyed seeing the wall of painted bricks outside the dressing rooms, painstakingly created by one of the backstage team to represent all the shows he worked on, and lovingly preserved over the years.
As a relative newcomer to Wimbledon, the tour was also a great chance to learn more about the area I now call home. A lovely way to while away a Saturday morning.
If you want to find out more about this theatre – and many others around the country – take a peek into the charmingly old-school Arthur Lloyd music hall and theatre history website here.