Walking passed this beautifully ornate historical building every day, the ladies didn’t quite have an understanding of just how important and influential the building was until Lady Tigerlily and Lady Wordsmith went on the theatre tour and learned about a gentleman and architect called Frank Matcham.
The tour was absolutely packed so when you do decide to attend one, make sure you book well in advance (future dates at the end of this post). Trevor Gilman – Chairman of the Buxton Historical Society – was our tour guide and a highly informed individual. The conversation of the Buxton Opera house evolution from inception, to creation, to low brow theatre, to movie theatre to high brow theatre was told in fantastic detail and with great ease. It felt like Gilman was speaking to us of one of his favourite subjects with all the enthusiasm and detail an expert would have.
The tour started from the upper echelons and worked it’s way down to the orchestra pit until the eventual centre stage moment where we could all glimpse the theatre from those well trod floorboards across the stage.
So back to this Matcham fella. He was born Newton Abbott in 1854 and if you have liked a theatre in the UK it is probably thanks to Frank Matcham as he was the architect on the Buxton Opera House but also other great theatres such as the London Palladium and the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.
Frank Matcham has a rather devout Society dedicated to his enormous talent that can be found HERE.
One of the first stops on the tour was the ladies toilets (seen in the above and below picture). What was so intriguing about the ladies loos was that it had a dumb waiter from the bar to the ladies toilets that would transport drinks during intermission to the ladies. Ha! How demure!
Lady Tigerlily is checking to see if her gin and tonic order has arrived yet.
We were then shepherded to a prime location in the theatre to really observe the elegance and beauty of the theatre itself. One of my favourite stories told was of famous ballerina Anna Pavolva performing onstage in 1925 at the Buxton Opera House and budding screen star Mary Pickford sat in the audience watching. This moment encapsulated in time illustrates the evolution of performance and a part of how the theatre itself evolved from live theatre to film theatre and back to live theatre!
We also loved all the detailing in and around the theatre. The gold leaf gilded theatre was full of intricate and symmetric tableaus’ one could admire. Such as the image above but even the golden boxes below are part of the ceiling in one singular corner of the theatre.
Here Trevor Gilman regales us with stories of the time Charles and Camilla came to the Buxton Opera House for a fundraising event and announced days later they were to be wed. The photos used in the media were of them at the Buxton Opera House event as that was the last place they were seen together publicly before the announcement.
As little is seen of the backstage workings, usually a lot of the upkeep costs goes towards the front of house but you have to take a look at the well used dressing room door and just think of all the famous people who have walked in and out of that room over the many, many decades. The front of house may have panache but backstage is all about the buildings’ character.
The orchestra pit is indeed a pit below the stage! It was quite dark, with low ceilings and incredibly warm. I couldn’t imagine forty-plus musicians crammed into that space with their instruments as well. The suffering they must go through to perform is indeed a labour of love. Which reminds me, I must always cheer the loudest for the orchestra so they may hear my gratitude at the end of a performance all the way down here!
These fabulous boots can be found at Room 49.
Most intriguing is the gold safety bars on the doors. Matcham was instrumental in inventing and fitting theatres with these safety bars after a few fires in theatres around the world had seen so many perish.
Overall the tour was about an hour and a half long and could have easily run to two hours. The space is a testament to Matcham’s ‘Edwardian Baroque’ design and one of his finest creations. Those ladies (and gentleman) that live in the shire are slightly spoiled to have such an affluent piece of architecture and theatre history on our very doorstep. Lady Wordsmith and Lady Tigerlily would highly recommend doing the Buxton Opera House tour and for a mere ten pounds your life can be as enriched as ours were for it.
Next Tours will be in 2017:
January 19th (11:00am)
February 2nd (2:00pm)
February 26th (11:00am)
March 3rd (11:00am)
March 28th (11:00am)
For tours happening throughout the rest of the year and onward, you can find details on the Buxton Opera House website.