Whispers from the Wings

Moving to the Duchess

May 11, 2012

Tuesday we move to the Duchess, one of the youngest and smallest of the West End theatres, to tech the show. We will do our first preview on Thursday.

The Duchess was built in 1929. In the following year it hosted the shortest run in West End history. The show was titled Intimate Revue and it closed without completing its first performance. Must have been a shocker. Audiences are kinder nowdays. Though I remember when I first acted in London in the late Sixties it was not unusual for displeased audience members at many a new play to cry out 'Rubbish' etc.

The set looks terrific in the new space. But it is a different story backstage. The wing space is almost non existent. I am told when the distinguished playwright JB Priestly was shown the new theatre in 1929 he expressed his admiration for the building and then enquired 'Where are the dressing rooms?'

I can well believe the story. The auditorium is below street level and the dressing rooms are on the roof, approached up a narrow and extremely shabby brick staircase. I counted the interminable steps up those stairs to my dressing room. 69 steps. The whole backstage area is very badly run-down and more than mildly depressing.

Welcome to the West End. Costume changes one did in the dressing rooms will now, due to the journey, have to be done in the non-existent wings. With a cast of 17, as well as wardrobe staff, dressers, wig dept, stage management, crew etc. we must number nearly 30 backstage.

Given the size of the stage, the smallness of the dressing rooms, where our Jacobean costumes fill the room I suspect the Duchess was built for smaller shows and much smaller casts than Written On The Heart.

We moan a lot about almost everything but within a day we have adapted to the building. The show despite all the discomfort will work very well here. The younger actors whose West End debut this is are really excited.

by James Hayes  |  No comments yet


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Teaching Shakespeare