Anyone that’s had a peek inside the Theatre Royal during its restorative works is literally ‘treading the boards’ in quite a few places.
Scaffolding and planks stand currently where gel lights and performers have been the most customary theatrical stage-fellows for decades.
Where wind and brass sections usually rule, drills, saws and grinders are providing the grand old venue with a different sort of daily symphony.
Henceforth, there’ll be fewer patrons in the stalls, to accommodate the control booth (the ‘sound box’) which has been re-lcoated from the dress circle.
To see the theatre devoid of seating and its famed chandelier was indeed an oddity, a far cry from the many sold-out performances that have been held here since 1810.
But on the very day of this column’s visit (not long after our Liam Murphy had also dropped in for a perusal), the frames for the dress circle’s seating were being riveted into position.
The theatre’s new green room, featuring a semi-circular window space which had been bricked up for eons, has been re-exposed and re-fitted, will be welcomed by performers.
Beneath the stage, just yards from space previously used as dressing rooms, some of the old city’s undercroft has also been discovered, literally revealing the footsteps of Waterford’s past.
These flagstones, along with other sections of old city wall that have been unearthed during the works, are to be encased in glass as a means of preservation.
All of this unearthing and remoulding has served as a reminder of the Theatre Royal’s inextricable weave into the fabric of the city and its environs.
The first anniversary of Larry Fanning’s passing is pending. No one did more to keep the Theatre Royal open and intact than Larry, a giant in our city and county’s sporting and theatrical circles.
At the Theatre Royal Board meeting of September 2nd last, Chairman Eamonn Flavin stated that Larry’s goal “was always to keep the Theatre open and vibrant, providing the best available programmes and entertainment for the public”.
He added: “Larry was a success story – we thank him for that and what he has left in our care. He may be gone, but will not be forgotten as long as the Theatre stands and he will feature prominently in any history of the Royal”.
That history, when written, should include the universal embrace that Larry Fanning extended to all forms of productions at the Royal – be it opera, musical, play or pantomime.
Theatre is not just about Chekov, Beckett, Synge and their justly lauded ilk. Don’t get me wrong: a night of stern, intellectually challenging stuff is sometimes exactly what makes a night at the theatre such an invigorating experience.
But it’s also about good old fashioned, get ‘em rolling in the aisles entertainment. It’s also about inviting the audience into the fun that a night at the theatre can just as easily provide.
That particular funny-bone tickling role is frequently fulfilled by musicals and pantomimes, populated by talented amateur performers, which this region possesses by the stage load.
And that’s where local societies (be they in the city, New Ross, Carrick-on-Suir, etc) come into play.
Variety concerts held at the Theatre Royal during the Second World War offered welcome distraction during so testing a time in our history.
The International Festival of Light Opera took up residence at the Theatre in 1958 and ran there without a break for the following 49 years – organisers hope to hold its 50th edition come the autumn of 2010.
For many locals, the festival is the social highlight of the year so the sooner it’s back the better – best wishes to Sean Dower and his colleagues in their (no doubt) mighty efforts.
It’s also a wonderfully intimate venue for singers and dancers to perform in and one hopes the brief that’s made the Theatre Royal great will endure for many years to come.
This simply must remain the case. How? By not pricing the rent of the theatre beyond the reach of local societies who fundraise to miraculous levels to literally keep the show on the road annually, a vital cog in the Theatre Royal will remain in place.
The theatre’s mission statement includes the following: “The Theatre Royal, often referred to as ‘the people’s theatre’, has been the traditional venue for this creative activity down through the generations.”
Standing on the Theatre Royal stage before a packed auditorium is one of the great experiences of any local amateur thespian’s life and looking to the future, one hopes that heartily remains the case.
After all, it’s the least that the great Larry Fanning deserves.