Go behind the scenes at the Theatre Royal

Emma Lee On Saturday there’s a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes at the Norwich Theatre Royal. EMMA LEE had a sneak preview of what visitors have in store – and couldn’t resist taking a turn in the spotlight herself.

Emma Lee

It's always a magical moment when the curtain rises at the theatre and the show begins. But have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes while you're engrossed in a musical or play?

Now's your chance to find out - and even have your own moment in the spotlight.

On Saturday, Norwich Theatre Royal is holding its first open day since its multi-million pound revamp.

Designed to be as hands-on as possible, visitors will be able to explore the parts of the theatre that the public rarely gets to see and discover the secrets behind how the on-stage magic happens.

And EDP2 has had a sneak preview of what's in store.

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"It's an access all areas approach to the theatre - an opportunity for people to go beyond the familiar parts of the theatre - to go on stage and back stage, to have a go with the sound and lighting equipment," front of house manager Matthew Piper explains.

The Theatre Royal Norwich is one of the oldest established theatres in the country, dating back more than 250 years. The current building dates back to the 1930s, when it replaced a theatre which had been destroyed by a fire.

It reopened late last year to great acclaim following an extensive refurbishment, during which the auditorium was upgraded to provide more leg room, the sound system and air conditioning were improved and the foyer areas were expanded, cementing its reputation as one of the eastern region's flagship arts venues.

The open day is suitable for all ages and levels of interest - whether you're a theatre buff or are interested in the technical side of things.

"They can see how we create the effects - like the intelligent lights, which are pre-programmed, and can follow the actors. Of course if the actor walks in the wrong direction they don't automatically catch up," says Matthew.

In the auditorium you'll be able to try out the new improved seats and find out how they change things around when there's a full orchestra to accommodate.

And you will be able to see the view of the audience the performers get from the stage. Have you always dreamed of being the star of the show? Well this is the next best thing - why not take a sneaky bow in the spotlight yourself?

And you'll find out plenty of tricks of the trade - how to 'fly' and why the deputy stage manager is one of the most important members of the technical team.

Some of the productions staged at the Theatre Royal, such as the musical Cats, which recently had a successful run in the city, have a huge backstage crew as well as a huge company of performers.

"People are always surprised by how little room there is in the wings," Matthew says. "Sometimes during the big productions they have to do big set changes during the interval. As an audience member you might think that the interval is just the time when you go and get an ice cream. But often it's very busy behind the curtain and they need that time to do the changes."

Backstage, you can see the dressing rooms where the stars prepare for curtain up - apparently the closer the dressing room is to the stage, the more important the star is. But don't go making any diva demands yourself.

The wardrobe department will show how they do those quick as a flash costume changes between scenes - which is no mean feat for a pantomime dame - and a make-up artist will be demonstrating face painting. And you can even go below stage into the orchestra pit.

"We'll also be showing people the traps that are cut into the stage which are used for productions such as the pantomime," Matthew says.

Younger visitors are particularly welcome - and if they take part in seven fun activities, which include cake decorating and ice cream tasting, they get the chance to enter a prize draw to win tickets to this year's pantomime.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

will star Neighbours actress Caitlin Stasey (she plays Rachel Kinski) as the heroine.

It's one of the many highlights of the new season's programme, which also includes the UK premiere of the musical Witches of Eastwick, starring heart-throb Marti Pellow, Oscar-nominated actress Brenda Blethyn in the Glass Menagerie, Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray, the Royal Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet and Coronation Street stars Bruno Langley and Bernie Nolan in Flashdance.

The theatre will be open from 10am-4pm. Admission is free and there's no need to pre-book.