Event: Behind the scenes at London’s Hampstead Theatre

York alumni are invited to take a tour at the venue in autumn 2015

In March a small group of London alumni were granted privileged access to the backstage world of one of London’s leading theatres. Organised by Jocelyn Abbey (Language, 1978), an active Patron of Hampstead Theatre, the alumni were treated to a tour of the theatre followed by lunch in the downstairs foyer. Greg Ripley Duggan, Executive Producer, welcomed the group with a short introduction to the history of the venue and its current artistic strategy and output. He then handed over to Neil Morris, Director of Operations and Associate Producer, to conduct the tour.

One alum recalled their visit…

The tour began in the Downstairs studio theatre, where the floor was covered with £650 of one penny coins for the production of Deposit by Matt Hartley, a new play about “Generation Rent”. The tour then snaked through a maze of corridors with stops in the converted cupboard that serves as a dressing room for the studio theatre, the props store, the rehearsal room and the area under the main stage before climbing stairs to the top of the circle of to examine the control room from where cues, sound and lighting are managed.

After another climb is the lighting level where technicians can walk on a tensile steel mesh to reach the stage lights – much safer, apparently, than the traditional ladders and walkways found in most theatres. Neil walked out on the mesh to demonstrate its strength and dared the group to follow suit – three or four took him up on the offer.

Image credit: ceridwen
Image credit: ceridwen

Back on terra firma, we were shown into one of the dressing rooms, then being used by Lynda Baron who was appearing in the production of Stevie by Hugh Whitemore with Zoe Wanamaker. In the wardrobe room next door we saw costumes and wigs which were being washed and prepared for the next performance before filing through the cramped production and administrative offices. Continuing downstairs we arrived at the production workshop at the back of the main stage where the theatre constructs a significant amount of its own scenery. Our final stop was the main stage itself where we stepped into the world of Stevie. We moved very carefully around the stage and into the wings, having been warned not to touch anything – it would have been unthinkable for one of the actors to miss a cue because a prop had been moved from its usual position.

We then sat in the row of audience seats at the front and side of the stage while Neil was kind enough to answer questions on a wide range of topics. By this time we were all ready for lunch, so we arrived back at our starting point in the downstairs foyer where the theatre had laid on a delicious lunch of salads, open sandwiches, cheese and fruit along with wine and soft drinks, hosted by Cathy Baker and Liberty Oberlander from the theatre’s Development Department.