This year sees Nottingham Playhouse celebrate its fiftieth year on its current site. Naturally, the theatre holds many a story from years gone by. What better way to discover these hidden gems than a good ol’ rummage through the props cupboard?
Deep within the bowels of the theatre, piles of newspapers dating back as far as the 1880s sit next to the latest mobiles, atop of drawers of spectacles, beneath a library of polystyrene books. The ‘Judi Dench Sword’ takes pride of place, a prop used fifty years ago during the Playhouse’s first season. In more recent times, Tracy Beaker’s comic sandwiches and ‘Lenny and George’s’ new born puppy have delighted audiences of all ages.
A trip to the wardrobe department revealed some interesting past-performers. Helena Bonham Carter and Hugh Grant both took to the stage as youngsters, but unfortunately the doublet labelled ‘Hugh Grant’ is lost somewhere in the vast expanse that is the wardrobe department. Aside from the celebrities like Ian McKellen and Sylvester McCoy who have graced the boards here, Nottingham legends such as Kenneth Alan Taylor, who has directed and starred in the theatre’s panto for the past 30 years, play an equally important part in the theatre’s history.
Head of props Nathan Rose explained how this hoarder’s paradise came to be: “We beg, borrow but don’t steal!” Although he recounts some impressive Ebay discoveries, Rose’s skills as an upholsterer, carpenter and sculptor ensure that no prop request is too obscure. There is as much creativity behind the scenes as in front of the curtain.
Nottingham Playhouse is also home to the Sky Mirror. Made from stainless steel, this huge concave sculpture is the centre of the Playhouse’s courtyard, capturing the sun and reflecting the skyline of Nottingham. Rumour has it that when it was first constructed in 2001, it was frying pigeons as they flew past!
Our afternoon at the Playhouse led us down memory lane and was the perfect celebration of the varied history of one of Nottingham’s most influential Arts venues. If you would like to share your Playhouse memories, take a seat in the ‘Memory Chair’, situated in the theatre’s foyer.
Hannah Rought and Lauren Wilson