Richmond’s Georgian Theatre Royal opens its doors this week for the start of a new season of guided tours that give people a unique insight into life in 18th century England, as well as the opportunity to tread the boards of the historic stage for themselves.
The Georgian Theatre Experience – which tells the story of the UK’s oldest working theatre in its original form – is one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions and currently holds a Certificate of Excellence and occupies the No. 1 slot of 23 things to do in Richmond on Trip Advisor – the popular international tourism website.
The attraction opened in July 2016 following a major redevelopment programme and in the last three seasons has seen a 34% increase in visitor numbers, with many coming from outside of the region.
This year’s entrance costs are being held for the fourth season running and are only £5 per adult and £2 for children with tickets valid for 12 months to enable repeat visits.
The visit includes a full guided tour of the auditorium, dressing rooms and stage, as well as access to an interactive exhibition area that not only reveals what life was like for a Georgian actor but also conjures the sights and sounds of 18th century England in a rural market town.
The exhibition is home to the recently restored Woodland Scene – Britain’s oldest surviving stage scenery painted between 1818 and 1836 – as well as old playbills, scripts and photographs. New exhibits this season are some modern pantomime props that many local people will recognise from recent festive productions.
“We are looking forward to welcoming lots of visitors to the Theatre in the months ahead,” said Clare Allen, Chief Executive of The Georgian Theatre Royal. “Each tour is led by one of our knowledgeable volunteer guides who enthusiastically bring the Theatre to life with intriguing tales of those who were both on and off the stage.
“One such colourful character is Tryphosa Brockell, the wife of Samuel Butler who built the Theatre in 1788. Butler was her third husband, 23 years her junior and she effectively ran the place until her death in 1797. A clergyman’s daughter, she was well educated and to be managing a theatre company in the middle of the 18th century was very rare for a woman.
“Insights are also given into the Theatre audiences. People would have been crammed into the tiny auditorium, a lot of beer would have been consumed and the atmosphere would have been raucous to say the least. There were no toilets in the building and those in need would either have used the wynd outside or brought their own pot. Shows could go on for many hours and it was not uncommon for food to have been thrown onto the stage,” she added.
The tour romps through the Theatre’s dramatic 232-year-old history – through times of closure and a variety of uses from auction house to paper salvage depot – culminating in its re-opening in 1963 and position now as a vibrant live performance venue. In fact, visitors touring the Theatre may find themselves sharing the excitement of a performance in rehearsal as they step inside the auditorium.
Tours run on the hour from 10.00am until 4pm, Monday to Saturday, until the end of October.
The Georgian Theatre Experience can be accessed from the main entrance of the Theatre on Victoria Road.
For further information, please contact 01748 823710 or visit www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk