New backstage tours at the Theatre Royal; discover the magical world behind the curtain
This summer the theatre royal are inviting families on an interactive tour where you can expect to explore hidden parts of the building not open to the public, meet characters from the past and experience what it’s like to perform on stage in front of a packed audience. We went along, with a little one too, to check it out!
Every Saturday, from June till September, the Theatre Royal opens its doors to the public for their incredibly popular backstage tours. This year they’ve got a brand new family friendly app tour.
Arriving at the foyer we meet Ben, our tour guide and are all given iPads to use as we go around the theatre. First up is some information about the theatre, the room we’re standing in and some special features. On the iPad there is a selection of content for each area, including photos, videos of staff in various roles, theatre actors performing as noted figures from the theatre’s past, plus mini games and interesting facts and features of the theatre.
Next, we move through to the stalls and take a seat, Ben tells us more about the beginnings of the theatre; its previous locations and owners and rumours of ghostly goings on! He guides us through some of the content on the iPads and my son enjoys getting to choose which buttons to press and watching the videos about the theatre. Ben never talks too long and we have plenty of time to explore the iPad content and soak in our surroundings.
On our way up to the Royal Circle we stop by a large mirror. Here the ipad comes into its own: there’s a great surprise interactive element as Ben shows us how to make a little video that uses our photos straight away, which my son absolutely loved.
Out onto the Royal Circle (you’re not too high up here, so if you’re not keen on heights don’t worry, we didn’t go up to the very highest seats), a quick chat and some more iPad time, then a little game for the kids to play on the iPad; nicely made and pitched just right for under 10s and their silly sense of humour.
It’s worth noting that outside of these specific opportunities, photos aren’t permitted, but there are a couple of these locations where you are encouraged to take some photos and the one interactive element where you can have your photo taken, which if you provide your email address at the end, they happily send to you afterwards.
After this, the tour heads backstage. There are tables of props laid out ready for the next show and you can see onto the stage (set up with the final scene from the previous nights’ show). The tour takes in several locations backstage, from the prop entrance doors (through which you get a glimpse out onto the North Laine shops, which reminds you of the sheer size of the theatre, having entered down on New Road), and the dressing rooms, down to the orchestra pit, before heading back up and out onto the stage itself.
It’s quite something, standing on the stage, looking out over the empty 2000 strong audience seating. The iPad is particularly brilliant here, with videos from the stage of a full audience, making it all too easy to imagine just how overwhelming and amazing it must be for the cast.
With that, the tour draws to a close. All told, it took us just over the stated hour, but it went very quickly considering all the different parts of the theatre explored and the iPad content on top. The tour as a whole is pitched well for the kids attending and there’s never any long periods standing around listening while your kids start to get bored and lose interest. The tour is recommended for kids aged seven and up but if you have a well-behaved younger child that is interested in the theatre, I would say that the tour is suitable for them too. I took my four-year-old son with me and he was fascinated by the theatre, enjoyed the photo opportunities and loved the iPad games. His best bit was the same as mine though; standing on the stage at the end, looking out and up at the empty auditorium, imagining being stood there with a full house looking back expectantly at us.
It’s worth mentioning that the tour takes in several staircases, some of them steep and plenty of uneven, cluttered floors (the theatre is over 200 years old, after all). So it’s not great for those with impaired mobility. Having the iPad handy means that those who can’t manage the physical tour around the building can take a virtual tour instead. The theatre has an ‘Access Champion’ James DuBois , who you can contact if you have any questions about accessibility, more information and contact details here.
The family friendly app tour is £7.50 per person and runs every Saturday at 11.30am (approx. 1 hour) from June till September. For more information and to book tickets visit the website here.