Yesterday John, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, amazed us with the long and chequered history of this theatre. Long before it became a performance space the site had contained Roman barracks. Subsequently, these were overbuilt by a vast medieval hospital, in use for six centuries.
We were interested to see parts of the old hospital, including archways and walls, carefully retained in the fabric of the modern building. Backstage we saw evidence of the first theatre the site had contained which had lain at right angles to its present alignment. We learned that in the 18th century the theatre audience was generally noisy, unruly, and raucous. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that having a fully seated auditorium led to audiences behaving more decorously.
One of the high lights of the tour was standing on stage and learning about the nautical origins of many terms used in the theatre. This was because, when theatres were first established, most stagehands had previously worked as sailors. They were the men with the strength, agility, and courage to climb into the space above the stage and raise and lower heavy scenery.
After touring virtually the entire building, we enthusiastically tucked into a delicious cream tea. We highly recommend this guided tour.