The title strapline is claimed by Douglas, Capital Town of the Isle of Man. To my mind, the Gaiety Theatre is the Town’s jewel, a fantastic Frank Matcham theatre from 1900 on the promenade.
I had arranged to spend a couple of hours inside with the technical people and I spent so much time talking that I didn’t take as many photos as I intended to. I reproduce the more interesting ones below.
The theatre is well documented in a book that got a rave review (from me!) and the technical Manager was telling me that the photographer would sometimes spend all day getting the lighting and angles right for one single photo in the book. That typifies the difference between an amateur and a professional; an amateur practices until (s)he gets it right, a professional practices until (s)he cannot get it wrong.
My snaps were taken with considerably less care as I was aware that my hosts had other stuff to do. However, I hope they pass muster for a blog!
Let me start with a long shot- taken from a horse drawn tram approaching the theatre. The barrel vaulted roof is from the original building on the site- the 1893 Marina, renamed Pavilion Theatre and closed in 1899 for conversion into the Gaiety. The wall that can be seen to pierce the roof two thirds of the way along is the procenium which is the firebreak between the audience and the stage.
The theatre is landlocked either side- with a hotel to the left and an arcade to the right.
Here is a view of the facade, again in passing on a tram. The two flattened arches either side at first floor level (each with four windows) were retained by Matcham from the original building, although he kept little else other than the four pilasters. He added a storey for gallery stairwells and considerably embellished the decorative effect.
The canopy has been restored to the original along with stained glass denoting the various entrances. Note the phrase “Early doors”, now more in use for football but denoting doors to the Pit and the Gallery where for a small extra charge the working class were able to get first dabs on the best unreserved seats.
On top of the facade pediment is a statue denoting Progress. It was brightly lit in the first shot here, showing the gold on the flame.
I also took this shot with the sun behind, which emphasises the metal bar bracing the statue. Talk about a rod for your own back!
Inside the auditorium, the ornate ceiling with the rose window draws the eye. Here is a shot from the front stalls. There are a couple of lamps out in the electroliers and also something off in the roof space above the stained glass, I have an eye for detail like that. We will return to the dome later.
Here is a shot from the upper circle slips. The original hall was rather long and thin but Matcham is able to disguise the constraints of the site with his ornate treatment. The safety curtain is in, complete with advertisements.
The proscenium has a mural above, painted by Messrs. Binns of Halifax, as were the four in the dome (representing the four seasons) and numerous decorative panels around the auditorium. The word MUSIC can just be seen at the top of the arch.
This is a view of the dome from the slips, with flash to show more detail, although it diminishes the effect of the light through the stained glass. The central sun burner was mechanically restored but not connected to gas- instead it has been wired to light up as part of the decorative lighting. (It still works as intended (on paper) at Buxton).
From the rear of the gallery, little of the ornamentation can be seen. This area is usable but seldom used, so it tends to be home for the follow-spots and the lighting desk which can be seen. The lighting bar can be raised higher when required, although this then requires blind focusing, i.e. the lanterns cannot be adjusted when lit as they are inaccessible. Note that the dome cannot be seen from up here, just a large expanse of plain wall above.
The gallery area still retains the previous ceiling from the days of the original Marina, although the clerestory windows within the ridge were blocked off of course to be able o achieve a blackout. The camera flash makes this area look lighter and brighter than it actually is, it looks suitably subdued to the eye from stalls level. You can see how the LX bar steel wire rope cable and the tripe multicore divert at arch beam level into the roof void.
A hidden door at gallery level takes you into the roof void. After negotiating a few changes of height, you find yourself above the ceiling dome. Facing towards the Gods, the winch for the raising of the lighting bar can be seen nestling in the eaves. The laths and plasterwork are of the wall seen two photos above. The ceiling plasterwork was stripped out in this area, presumably to provide access to the timbers for the additional ceiling timberwork.
It is surprisingly bright up here, as several sunfloods connected to the house lighting dimmer circuit shine down onto translucent panels above the stained glass of the ceiling rose window. There is an aluminium drawbridge arrangement to access the sunburner winch for relamping, this is kept raised in normal circumstances so as to not leave a visible shadow on the window. You can see it to the left of the picture. The milky looking panels arranged around the central structure are directly above the actual stained glass ceiling panels. (The unlit floodlight that can be seen is a working light, not part of the decorative arrangement). The brick wall seen in the distance is the proscenium wall.
Around the perimeter of the dome, small hand winches lower the electroliers, accessed by the modern catwalk. During restoration, many steel rods were fitted from the beams into the plasterwork and plaster strips added to help the fibrous plasterwork adhere. (Nearly a century of gravity had taken its toll and some of the cherubs were in danger of coming adrift).
From the heights down to the depths. Under the stage there is a treasure trove of Victorian stage machinery. Only a small part of it is original to the theatre (having been stripped out over the decades) but what is there now has been rescued from other theatres under threat of “improvement” in Sheffield, Bristol and Edinburgh. It now has a full set of victorian equipment again, namely to bridges, sloats, corner traps and a grave trap, along with a corsican trap, the only known one in existence. From left to right- Corsican platform, No. 1 Bridge, O.P. Demon trap. The door on the extreme right is the musician access to the orchestra pit.
Behind me to the left was a large drum that the moving stage floor (called Scruto) would roll onto like a roll-top desk. More on the Corsican here.
(An interesting (but large file) teachers notes pack produced by the Cambridge Arts theatre for their 2004/5 Jack & the Beanstalk production can be found here (pdf, warning, 5 Meg!)- smaller Dick Whittington 2005/6 version here (2.3 Meg))
Way behind the sage, under the dressing room block, is the original engine house. This houses a Crossley Gas engine and a Diesel engine both for generating electricity up until 1929 when the theatre was connected to the Manx grid. This view is of the gas engine.
The gas engine is linked by belt to the dynamo. The wall leading to the crew room is a more recent addition, the room was longer than this originally. The second dynamo (or possibly an alternator) can be seen on the right and the belt is slack as it has been moved forwards to accommodate the crew room.
This panel on the wall is the original fuse/switchgear and it still lights up.
There is one area still to reveal but it can be subject of another posting. However I will finish with two final shots. The view from the former projection box window is of the back of the progress statue above the facade. Not only is she rodded, but braced as well.
Finally, a theatre needs one final thing to make it magical- an audience. Here is a glimpse of the audience from our front row circle seats before the performance started.
(A big thanks to Seamus and Alex for their interest).