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Bringing the theatre's past to life in Bury St Edmunds

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Tea and sympathy are familiar partners. Those of us with an addiction to visiting historic properties open to the public often indulge in a refreshing cup of the national beverage, and the chance to sit down at the end of a tour. Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal – which is, of course, within the custody of the National Trust – plans to emulate neighbouring Ickworth this summer by offering both heritage teas and an interactive theatre experience.

Backstage Pass: Access All Areas is the name of this initiative. It will run between 10am and 5pm from Wednesday 16 May until Sunday 29 July and again from Wednesday 8 to Sunday 19 August, though not on Mondays or Tuesdays. National Trust members do not have to pay for the tour; for adult non-members it will cost £6.00 with concessionary rates for children and groups. The teas, with suitably historic consumables, incur a separate charge.

Ever since it re-opened in 2007 after extensive restoration work to return the auditorium to full Georgian splendour, the theatre has hosted backstage tours. But these new ones are, in the words of retiring artistic director Colin Blumenau intended “to communicate through the membrane diving here and now from history”. During August, costumed and well-briefed members of the theatre’s community groups will interpret some of the people who were connected with the Theatre Royal – actors, authors, stage-hands – or just ordinary members of the public.

The basic script for this has been written by Blumenau, but – as with costumed re-enactments at other historic properties – the public will be encouraged to ask questions, Static displays will be used to show how stagecraft and audience expectations (and reactions) have developed over the theatre’s 200 years history. (Patrons who have failed to appreciate the seating arrangements in the restored circle boxes will be pleased to know that these are to be revamped over the coming 12 months).

Launching Backstage Pass, board chairman Brian Stewart} emphasised that, even with the recession biting, 2011 was overall more successful in financial and audience terms than the preceding year. The Arts Council announcement of portfolio status for the Theatre Royal has meant a smoother-than-usual forward planning process as far as in-house productions are concerned. Following in the hoof-beats of Dick Turpin’s Last Ride last autumn, September’s new adaptation of [Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park will also have a nine-week tour.


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