Upstaged at the Wyvern

24th May 2015

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts,…’ William Shakespeare, As You Like it

As regular listeners will know, I’ve mentioned on this blog more than once how struck I was by the wealth of facilities I found when I first pitched up here in Swindon. For all the faults of the town we are still very lucky to have many splendid assets at our finger tips – just one of which is the splendid Wyvern Theatre – a building I’ve spent a fair amount of time in since coming to Swindon. The theatre has been mentioned on this blog before but somewhat briefly so it’s nice to have a reason to write about it again.

I’ve recently had cause to ponder on the above having been fortunate enough to be invited, earlier this week, to the opening night of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – and I LOVE that show. I’ve seen it umpteen times over the years. Representing Pharaoh as Elvis – the King. Genius.

“Acting is in everything but the words.” Stella Adler, The Art of Acting

exterior of a theatre

Wyvern exterior – photo from Kate Bentley

 Some interesting facts about the Wyvern:

1) The theatre takes its name from a wyvern, a mythical dragon-like beast once thought to be the emblem of the kings of Wessex.

2) The theatre was opened in September 1971 by Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Prince Philip. According to Aunty Wikiepedia the first performance in the theatre was by a Ukranian dance company.

3) The auditorium has 635 seats with each one designed to be no further than 70 feet from the stage – and I have to say one of the things I’ve always loved about the place is that there is no such thing as a bad seat. Where ever you sit there’s a good view – no pillars in front of you and what-not. And the acoustics in there are amazing. It really is a superb little theatre.

4) The theatre has a function room on the upper level called The Placeperfect for weddings, christenings and Bar Mitzvahs! It’s used a lot for murder mystery dinner events which are very popular.

5) The architects responsible for the building were the Casson-Condor partnership. Sir Hugh Casson has been behind major chunks of the 20th century and was Director of Architecture for the 1951 Festival of Britain – I’d love to have seen that. After which he worked on the Elephant house at London Zoo and the Cambridge University Arts Faculty buildings. So our little theatre is in illustrious company.

6) Both the Wyvern and and Swindon Arts centre offer a Great British cafe menu available ‘from an hour and a half at the Wyvern and from an hour at the Arts Centre, before every show.’ As much as the ethos of this blog is to be positive, and overall I LOVE this theatre and the Arts Centre, I will nevertheless take this opportunity to complain about the cost of a glass of wine in both establishments. £6.05 for a glass of Shiraz is TOO MUCH. If the management are listening you are are surely shooting yourselves in the foot? Were  the wine sensibly priced I would have two: one pre-show and one at the interval. As it is I now buy a beer or a coffee if in the Wyvern and if I’m at the Arts Centre I go to a pub next door. This is Swindon not Dulwich.   Here endeth the lesson.

Anyway, moving on from countering about the price of drinks –  I mentioned above that I’d had the great good fortune to be invited to the opening night of ‘Joesph’. Before the show started myself and the other guests were treated to a mini-tour of the theatre by Nyree Kingsbury, the community and education officer and Benjamin Dunn the marketing and promotions assistant. Ben blogs about the fabulous cultural and artistic landscape we have in Swindon in his Swindon arts blogcheck it  out here.

My thanks go to the two of them for the tour because it was a lovely and fascinating thing to see some of what goes on behind the scenes – though of course we couldn’t go backstage – and to learn some titbits of ‘theatre-lore’. Some of which I knew and some of which was new to me. So while I did know that in theatre-land one never says ‘good luck’ but ‘break a leg’ I didn’t know how the phrase ‘upstaged’ came into being. While the Wyvern theatre stage is level many are not but rather are on a slight incline with the highest point being at the back of the stage. So your more competitive performer would/will try and position themselves at a higher point thereby ‘upstaging’ their fellow actors. The Green Room, the haven of pre and post-show drinks for the performers, is called the green room no matter what hue it actually is. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive reason for why it is so called but you can read some of them here. Wikepedia also has some suggestions about the origin of the term.

“What is that unforgettable line?”  – Samuel Beckett

When we go to the theatre we probably don’t give anything more than a passing thought to what goes on beyond the stage, to the myriad of rooms and staircases and the hive of activity that goes into getting all of those shows on the stage laid out before us. It really is a whole world of its own and one which we really are very blessed to have on our doorstep. The cost of a glass of wine notwithstanding. So, to the top of the bill players, the theatre director and Ben and Nyree, and to their incredibly talented and hard-working supporting acts: Break a leg! Oh and don’t mention the Scottish play…Now –  I’m off to the green room!

Contact: Nyree Kingsbury:  Nyree@wyverntheatre.org.uk

Benjamin Dunn: bdunn@wyverntheatre.org.uk