Backstage past: Live Encounters

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PLAYING tour guide to family friends visiting Bury St Edmunds for the first time, I decided to take them to the Theatre Royal.

I had hoped they could catch a glimpse of the impressive interior of the UK’s last working Regency playhouse, but we got more than I had bargained for by being invited to take part in a unique and, somewhat interactive, tour.

Launched at the Westgate Street theatre this summer, Backstage Past: Live Encounters used 13 talented and enthusiastic actors to bring the 200-year history of the theatre to life in a way unrivalled by anything I had seen previously.

During the performance, the audience was given access to areas not ordinarily explored and introduced to colourful characters from the theatre’s past, from its architect William Wilkins to entertainer Mons Gouffe, famed for descending from the gallery to the stage using three fingers.

As well as moving between the boxes and the pit, with an explanation of their intended societal class divide, we were led on stage and backstage, ending in the green room.

The tour was informative, fun, unexpected at times and a wonderful way to explore the theatre, for the regular and the first time visitor alike.

Having seen 3,000 visitors, the tours proved so successful that dates have already been set for it next year. LS