3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.

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Backstage tour: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

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Credit: Becca Pettit

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a unique piece of theatre which has been subject to great critical acclaim since it first opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. Now embarking on its second UK tour, audiences all over the country are being swept up in Christopher Boone’s story. I was invited on a backstage tour of the show at Theatre Royal Plymouth along with five other bloggers to learn more about the play and to get a closer look at the props and set. We were met by Stew, the company manager, who talked us through the different aspects of the show and opened our eyes to how much detail has gone into creating this production.

We started by looking at the towering set, and Stew explained that it takes 6 hours to get it into the theatre, and 12 hours to put it all together and make it function. We saw the versatile white boxes which are used in various ways throughout the show, as suitcases, train seats, and even a toilet! Then we moved on to looking at the props, starting with Wellington, the four legged victim of the story, and I was amazed at the gruesome detail that been applied to the dog, as well as the detail on other set pieces, such as the model of Big Ben and the tiny houses. Stew told us that ‘Curious is all about detail’, and I saw first-hand that this is certainly true.

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Then it was time to go on stage! The floor is covered in tiny squares (892 to be exact), and the floor and three walls are all covered in grids. Although the set may look simple at first, there are eight projectors used in the show which really enhance the visual aspect, and LED lights are used to inject different colours and moods into various scenes. The grid squares are labelled with letters and numbers around the sides, and Stew told us that the directors used these squares during the rehearsal process to help with the precision of the blocking – for example, an actor would be instructed to stand in box A7 for a certain scene. I found it really interesting that a show so based in logic and maths is blocked in such a mathematical way – and this must play a part in enhancing the performance. As Stew told us, ‘it’s all grid work’.

Understandably, there are many people working on Curious to ensure that it runs smoothly for all 8 performances a week. There are 10 cast members in the show, plus an alternate Christopher, and 4 understudies. There are two Christophers because it is such a demanding role – the actor portraying him never leaves the stage except during the interval. There are also 16 crew members, unusually outnumbering the cast number! These numbers prove how technical the show is, and how although it has a small cast size, it requires many people working hard backstage to make the show happen. Stew said that audiences often forget that Curious is a play, because it is so much more than a play – perhaps even a ‘play with the infrastructure of a musical’. Although the scale of the set is so big, the intense detail of the props means that the performance still feels intimate and relatable.

A primary aim of the show is to introduce the audience to Christopher’s world. Stew told us that this is why the set is effectively a box, because this box represents his mind. We also learned about the music for the show, which is all based around prime numbers – for example, at the start of the show a drum rhythm is heard, and the accents are on beats 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 (the first prime numbers). This makes the audience subconsciously inhabit Christopher’s world because he adores maths, and prime numbers – so it makes sense that the background music would be based around them too. I find this incredibly clever, and again, it’s something that the audience would not pick up on, making it another example of the show’s attention to detail.

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The backstage tour gave me and the other bloggers an invaluable insight into the world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The scale of the set and detail of the props is astounding, and it is clear that so much thought has been put into every tiny aspect of this production to make it unique and authentic. So many individuals work hard to make this show as good as it can possibly be, and I can’t wait for more audiences around the UK to experience this extraordinary piece of theatre.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 1st July. 

The Wrong Side of Prohibition – Thespis Project Theatre Company, 25/02/17

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Photo credit: Luke Stratta

Thespis Project Theatre Company is a relatively new establishment which brings new theatre to the city of Plymouth. A few other bloggers and I were kindly invited to a performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition which explores the lives of flappers and gangsters in 1920s America, performed in the brilliantly appropriate speakeasy bar, The Tigermilk, at The Duke of Cornwall Hotel. Thanks to the unique, immersive experience the cast provided us with, it was an exciting evening of exploring new writing which was performed by a promising cast.

The play was cleverly staged around the tables and chairs which seated the audience members, creating a totally immersive show and holding everyone’s complete attention throughout. The costumes were lavish and appropriate for the era, and the general décor of the bar created a stunning back drop for this historical piece, making it the perfect venue for this production.

Anastasios Chalas portrayed the authoritative, manipulative club owner Tony very convincingly, displaying some powerful dramatic acting and good interactions with the other characters – while allowing the audience to feel a small amount of sympathy for him at times. He was well supported by the smaller male characters, who collectively managed to convey the extremity of gender inequality within the society at the time.

Some of the most promising scenes came from the young women playing the showgirls – I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Frankie Hill as Jennie and Sarah Lawrence as Maggie, whose forbidden love was beautifully displayed in some tender scenes. They were complemented well by Heather Brown as Rose, the oldest and most experienced show girl who is even able to manipulate Tony, and Bryony Harvey who portrayed a believable mothering figure to the showgirls. These individuals displayed great promise within their roles, with Lawrence’s emotive acting proving particularly successful.

Another stand out performance came from Nicola Tyrer as Anna, the young Greek girl who is brought to the club at the beginning of the play. Her transformation from a timid girl into a confident singer was realised brilliantly, and Tyrer’s beautiful voice was showcased in her acapella solos, which she performed impeccably; remaining perfectly in key throughout and displaying a good level of acting through song. The contrast between her and the other girls was also evident, not only through their appearances, but also through their levels of experience.

This production was completely different to anything I’ve seen before – I loved the way that the actors broke the fourth wall through delivering their scenes in amongst the audience members – and lines which directly applied to us such as ‘what’re you looking at? Get back to your drinks!’ were both funny and believable given the setting we were in. The production felt far more intimate than your average show in which there is a clear divide between the cast and the audience; and getting to chat to members of the company afterwards was an added bonus!

I had a brilliant evening watching The Wrong Side of Prohibition, and it was really exciting to experience new theatre in the South West. The cast delivered the material impeccably, with some promising performers among them, and the location was simply perfect. I’d like to thank Thespis Project Theatre Company for inviting us to their performance, and I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.

Like their Facebook page here.

Disclaimer: Thespis Project Theatre Company invited me to their performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition, but all thoughts expressed here are my own.

Billy Elliot UK tour at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff: Theatre bloggers on tour!

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It’s safe to say that Billy Elliot has become one of my favourite musicals. Having seen it twice in the West End (in 2013 and 2015), and then experiencing the premiere of the UK tour in Plymouth earlier this year, I seem to have developed an emotional connection to the show! I was lucky enough to witness the first dress rehearsal, a show half way through the Plymouth run, and to sit in the pit band for the final show in Plymouth. So, once post show blues kicked in and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to see this incredible show for a little while, my friend and fellow theatre blogger Ellie and I decided to rectify the situation by taking a trip to Cardiff!

We got the train from Plymouth and the journey was filled with stagey conversation. After making friends with the ladies next to us and changing trains at Bristol, we got on a train that was Cardiff bound. We speculated over when the Severn Tunnel might be, and got mildly excited (can you tell we’ve lived sheltered lives in Plymouth?!) but it was actually fairly uneventful… It was just a really long tunnel. Anyway, we arrived in Cardiff and walked to Cardiff Bay, where we sat in the sun looking out at the boats. It was idyllic!

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Wales Millennium Centre is the nicest and poshest theatre I have ever been to. The exterior of the building is strikingly stunning, and once we entered we were amazed by the spacious, shiny foyer area and the way that the whole theatre is like some kind of posh art gallery! The auditorium is gorgeous too, and even from our seats in the upper circle, we had a brilliant view of the stage and the band pit!

Matthew Lyons portrayed Billy at this show, and he has really come on as a performer in the last three months. His vocals are beautiful, his dancing is as impressive as ever, and I still adore his little acting choices which make his performance more personal. Bradley Mayfield played Michael, having only just joined the touring cast, and he was outstanding, and possibly the best Michael I’ve ever seen! Italia Ross was hilarious as Debbie once again. The adult cast never fail to blow me away, particularly Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson, Martin Walsh as Dad, and Scott Garnham as Tony. Garnham is simply perfect for the role, and his performance impresses me more every time I see it.

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Sitting in the upper circle made me appreciate the ensemble sections more, particularly the formations made in the dance routines. The sound was also so loud and clear, but I’m not sure if this was due to where we were sitting or the amplification of the theatre auditorium. Either way, it was amazing to be able to fully appreciate the work of the pit band, led by Patrick Hurley. Musical highlights include Solidarity – one of my absolute favourite theatre dance routines because it is just so clever – Grandma’s Song, Electricity, The Letter and The Letter Reprise, and the whole finale sequence. As soon as the song Once We Were Kings began, Ellie and I became very emotional – and this peaked during the ‘see ya Michael’ and ‘yeah, see ya Billy’ lines. It’s such a poignant final moment in the show and it was executed so perfectly at this performance.

It was amazing to get to see the incredible touring production of Billy Elliot once again, even if I did have to travel all the way to Wales to see it! It is so interesting to see how far the cast have come and how much the show has developed since the very first dress rehearsal in Plymouth back in February, and I can’t wait to see it again in Southampton early next year. Ellie and I had a great day exploring Cardiff, getting stupidly excited about the gorgeous theatre, and of course seeing one of our favourite shows, and the trip was so totally worth it! Theatre bloggers on tour, OUT.

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Plymouth Blog Meet at the Orangery, Mount Edgcumbe – 07/05/16

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On Saturday 7th May, I attended the biggest and best South West blog event at The Orangery at Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall. The whole thing was impeccably organised by Ellie (of Little Ellie Mae, check out her blog here – she often writes about theatre too!), and I had such a brilliant time. This was the second blog event that I’ve attended, after the picnic last September, so it was really nice to catch up with bloggers I’d met there, along with meeting lots of new people as well.

I arrived in Cornwall on the Cremyll ferry – possibly the coolest way to arrive in the county – and silently wondered whether a few other people on said ferry were bloggers. I eventually plucked up the courage to ask three other girls when we all stopped outside the Orangery and looked a little bemused, causing us to realise that we were indeed all in the right place, and thus we entered the beautiful venue together.

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The theme of the event was Alice in Wonderland, and Ellie had really gone to town with the décor, with such impressive attention to detail! Every table was adorned with teapots filled with fresh flowers, Alice napkins, and sequins and flowers, while larger decorations hung from the chairs and tables, making it feel like a totally immersive wonderland. Once we’d all taken the obligatory photos of the amazing tables, I got chatting to some bloggers I’d never met before, and as always, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to talk to these new people, because we all had something in common.

There was even some live entertainment: two extremely talented girls sang and played the guitar in the background while us bloggers munched on the delicious canapes and talked some more. There were also some advocates for No7 and Benefit, and their tables were consistently busy throughout the afternoon, with bloggers getting skin consultations and free samples, which was a great addition to the event. There were a few giveaways full of exciting products from a variety of brands, and a photographer who took some great candid shots of us all.

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Credit: Owen Bush Photography

As I said, it always comes as a surprise to me at these events that I can just sit down with complete strangers and start talking. Although all of us bloggers are completely different and all write about a variety of things in our own unique styles, we all have our blogs in common. Blogging can, understandably, be a bit of a lonely hobby, seeing as all the time and work we dedicate to it is spent in our own company, on our laptops, in our rooms! So, to meet so many other people who share this solitary hobby is wonderfully refreshing and exciting, and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many more people in the South West blogging community.

My second blog meet was such an enjoyable experience, and it was so great to see such a vast quantity of bloggers all together in one room. I’m so grateful to Ellie for organising these events for us, as without all of her hard work and effort I would never have had the chance to meet all of these brilliant, inspiring, creative people. Bring on the next one!

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A year of theatre blogging

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On this day last year, I created my blog: thatmusicaltheatrenerd. I’d wanted to start a blog for a few years, but never had anything to write about – that was until I started reviewing shows I’d seen for fun, and then thought that it would be awesome to share them with the rest of the theatre community via the internet. And what a great idea that was! I’ve had such a great first year of blogging, involving working with the Theatre Royal Plymouth, going to local blog events and making new friends, and getting responses from musical theatre performers I’ve admired for years. So here is a summary of my first year of blogging!

Theatre Royal Plymouth

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I’ve been attending shows at the Theatre Royal Plymouth since 2002, so I was extremely excited to be contacted by the PR department a mere 2 months into my blogging journey. This resulted in an incredible day of having a backstage tour of the theatre and watching a rehearsal of Shrek the Musical, along with meeting the PR team and other local bloggers. The theatre also invited me to the first dress rehearsal of the new UK tour of Billy Elliot in February, meaning that I was among the first people to see the new production. This was an amazing experience, as it was so interesting to see the show at such an early stage of its development.

Plymouth Blog Meets

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Credit: Ellie Woolman

I attended my first bloggers’ meet up in September: a picnic in Plymouth, organised by the lovely Ellie (who has now become a good friend!). I didn’t know anyone who was going beforehand so I was quite nervous, but it was such a fun afternoon and I loved getting to chat to lots of likeminded people. I’m super excited to attend the biggest Plymouth blog meet up yet in May, which has also been organised by Ellie. If you’re a blogger from the South West and don’t have tickets yet, there are still a few available here.

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And now onto my actual blog… so far I’ve racked up nearly 9000 page views, which to me is a ridiculous amount! I’ve been blown away by the responses to a number of my posts, such as my article about pit band musicians and MDs (which got shared around by people in the industry A LOT), both my recent posts about the new Billy Elliot UK tour, and most randomly, my article about extra musical references in Shrek. I think that someone somewhere must have set an assignment based on this topic because the amount of views I still get on this post from search engines is just crazy. I always say that I don’t blog for views, which is absolutely true, but I can’t deny that getting a lot of attention on certain posts doesn’t make me happy – and getting tweeted thanks by performers in the theatre industry that I really admire is one of the best things ever!

I can’t believe that it’s been a year since I started my blog – in a way it feels like I haven’t been doing it for very long, yet I also struggle to remember what my pre blogging life was like! I’ve had so many great experiences as a result of it, and I really enjoy connecting with other bloggers and theatre lovers online. I’d like to thank every single person who’s ever read my blog (strangers, fellow bloggers, performers, friends/family who I’ve forced to read it…) and here’s to many more years of blogging!

Plymouth Blog Meet Picnic – 05/09/15

Credit: Ellie Woolman
Photo credit: Ellie Woolman

This is my first non theatre related post, but I had such a great time at my first bloggers’ event that I simply had to write about it! Since starting this blog back in April, I’ve become aware that there are many other bloggers within my local area, so I was super keen to attend this bloggers’ picnic which was organised by the lovely Ellie.

I arrived at the picnic at 12, to see a gazebo decorated with bunting as well as some rugs to sit on, and picnic tables with patterned tablecloths and a lot of food laid out. A Great British Bake Off style competition was being held (although I didn’t take part – baking is not my strong point!). There were so many great creations on the table, and they all looked delicious, although I certainly didn’t manage to eat a piece of all of them! The competition was deservedly won by this gorgeous cake which was made by Kim:

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I was a little nervous before arriving at the picnic because I’d never really met anyone who was going beforehand, so it was a bit daunting. I needn’t have worried though, because everyone was so lovely and we all had a lot in common to chat about! In this way it was similar to the bloggers’ day at the Theatre Royal Plymouth which I attended last month. I found several other musicals enthusiasts, and we talked about all things musical theatre to our hearts’ content, which was great – I always love finding people who share my passions because in case you couldn’t tell, I can talk (and write) about musicals for hours!

It was such a chilled afternoon – a few bloggers had brought their children along, who played with each other, ran around on the grass and enjoyed the food! The weather was great considering that this is England, and despite a couple of brief showers during which we huddled underneath the gazebo, it generally remained dry and even sunny at times!

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I brought my ukulele with me and found the chance to play a few songs, and attempted to persuade a few of the other bloggers to take up the instrument too – we’ll see if those efforts were successful! A lot of the people there were beauty and lifestyle bloggers, and while I obviously am not, it was really interesting to hear them talk about beauty products and make up, as although I don’t blog about those kind of things, I still have an interest in them.

I had an amazing time at the Plymouth bloggers’ picnic, and it’s definitely made me want to attend more local bloggers’ events, especially as it was lovely to meet up with other people who I have blogging in common with. I’d like to thank Ellie for organising the event so efficiently, and hopefully I’ll be able to write about more bloggers’ events in the future!