by Jez Bond
After a successful morning rehearsing ‘Company’, followed by a brief catch up with the Hughes Jones Farrell team, we headed to the London Coliseum for a 3pm tour with the technical manager, Dewi Evans.
The number of private tours we have been on is fast approaching twenty and we have always been treated well. Dewi’s tour, however, has to be one of the top few. On arrival he presented us each with some fascinating plans of the building which he then proceeded to talk us through before he showed us around.
We began in the foyer where Dewi’s passion and immense knowledge of the building shone through. He explained the history of this Matcham theatre which was commissioned by impresario Sir Oswlad Stoll (as in Stoll Moss theatres). The Coliseum is London’s largest Victorian/Edwardian theatre, followed closely by the Palladium and Drury Lane. It used to have over 300 seats more than its current capacity of 2,358 – but over the years rows have been taken out to accommodate a larger forestage, predominantly for an extended orchestra pit.
We heard the story of how on the opening night King Edward, who was known for not liking to mingle with his public, was on an electric underground train that has been specially made for him to gain access to the royal box from the street without being seen by anyone, when the vehicle carrying the rather portly king broke down. King Edward was irate and said he would never enter the Coliseum again. He didn’t and apparently the Royal family still carry a grudge as they have only been seen in the theatre on extremely rare and official occasions!
Through the foyers, bars, backstage and – most impressively – the beautiful auditorium, we toured around learning about the history of the ENO, the details of the 2000-2004 refurbishment, the sight-lines and the acoustics. In the orchestra pit we stood among instruments worth more than I’d care to think and on the fly floor we looked down at the stage far below as ballet dancers rehearsed for Prokovief’s Romeo and Juliet.
At 5.30pm we returned to the foyer and said thanks and goodbye to Dewi – far wiser and more inspired than we were two and a half hours earlier. Time to book a show an ENO show – and now we know exactly where to sit!