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4:10pm Thursday 22nd February 2007 in News
Although it's the architecture of Theatre Royal Brighton's exterior and auditorium that is most obvious, the backstage areas are in some ways more interesting and certainly more complex - when the building was being developed in the 19th Century, architects were not required to lodge planning applications!
The stage door, for instance, is thought to be the oldest in the country, and as a result is one of the smallest too, which can create its own challenges as Mark Gillard, Theatre Royal Brighton technical manager, explains: "Obviously, when it was built, the scenery would arrive on a horse and cart - so they didn't have big pieces of scenery," he explains.
"But today, some theatres have a door big enough for three 45-tonne lorries to back up.
"Yet because we've got a combined stage door and dock door, we have to get everything through this domestic-door size.
"We don't really have difficulties any more," he continues, "because everyone knows the size of our dock door so they know it needs to fit in. They don't need to make the set any smaller, it just needs to be able to break down into smaller pieces.
"We haven't had a piece of set that hasn't fitted through that door for quite a while."
Another interesting feature is the incorporation into the building of several fishermen's cottages, many of which still serve as dressing rooms, giving an completely unique atmosphere.
The fishermen themselves would have been highly involved in the theatre in the early days, putting their rope-handling skills to good use in the raising and lowering of canvas panels of scenery (or "flies", as they're known in the trade).
While most theatres have abandoned this manual method of operating scenery, Theatre Royal Brighton is still using the ropes, making it one of only four or five "hemp houses" that remain in the country.
"Basically, our flying system is just done by brute force," explains Mark. "The hemp ropes go up to pulleys above the stage, and we lower or raise the scenery just by pulling or releasing the ropes.
"For some of the bigger shows we have 12 blokes up there because there's so much flying.
"We only have soft blue lights up there during a performance," he continues, "and we have to creep around so we don't make too much noise.
"We're nine metres above the stage, and sometimes we have to stand right up on the beams wearing harnesses.
When the fishermen first started, there was none of that. It was way before the days of health and safety."