Tech Blog Gondoliers 04

By Lois Cross, longtime cast member.
The Gondoliers
Central Hall, February 2004

My first experience of set building was being insturcted to paint the seat of the double 'throne' and then help cover the rest of it with gold foil. We're still using that gold foil (which I suspect had already been there a while), and it still weighs an absolute ton. This was also my first introduction to techies as the technical director proceeded to be sarcastic about my work, under the impression that his girlfriend was responsible for it rather than me.

That throne, which was a centerpiece in Act 2, was a great example of G&S 'bodging.' Since it needed to seat two comfortably, a small bench that had been produced for a previous show was fitted (I use the term in its' loosest sense) with a back made of a few bits of wood nailed together. This was frequently criticised for not being straight, however the constructors always argued that it was the bench, not the back, which was the problem as the central support on the bench was not actually central- whereas the support on the bact was. Fitting a pair of arms was even more of a challence as the corners of the bench were worn and not at right angles. At least that was Chris Charlton and Alex Gurney's excuse. However, hung with red material and a gold foil-covered hardboard top, the throne didn't look too bad.

There were a minimum of other things on stage, mainly three 'statues' which I think were made of papier mache on top of wooden plinths painted to look vaguely like marble. A coulple of lions flanked the throne in Act 2, while in Act 1 a rather oddly shaped lady helped create the atmosphere of a Venetian square (although I recall rumours she was actually based on Margaret Thatcher!). A series of bollards (lengths of cardboard carpet roll, with discs of chipboard stuck to the ends. The chipboard came from a table in a skip on campus the day we were making them …) down the stage right side of the stage (which actually lit up) flanking a canal made of blue material laid on the auditorium floor. The water was achieved largely with a ripple effect light hung up on the canopy which produced a continually moving output onto the blue fabric (which should have been flameproofed but wasn't!). At the back of the canal, against the stage, there was a very solidly constructed bridge (well the parapet of the bridge, which rose up higher than the stage so you appeared to be crossing the bridge as you entered the stage). This bridge had to be manouvered into Central Hall from our previous storage in a cupboard in Goodrick college by means of two people inside it and someone else giving them directions.

The stage itself was split along a diagonal (down left to up right) with the front stage right section being on a lower level, on stage blocks approximately half the height of the normal ones. Unfortunately this was the last time these were used before the uni threw them out. It meant the cast had to be careful when dancing but I think it produced a good visual effect and added some variety to where people could stand. It also meant the stage that year ran right out to the edge of the orchestra pit.

For Act 1, there were a series of flats across the back of the stage. The fact that the flats were 12 foot tall and then some creative type added a spire that stuck up even further, creating some problems for the tech crew. Rather than concealing the entrances, the flats occupied the space between them. They were painted with a Venetian scene, the same one which was used for the posters (although they were in shades of blue and the flats were pastel colours). There appeared to be a block of houses on each side, with a hardboard (I assume) bridge spanning the gap between them, with blue material hanging down from the bridge to cover the gap beneath and give the impression of a canal.

For Act 2, there was a backdrop which was tucked behind the flats in Act 1, producing the impression of sky. This was fitted with tapes that tied round the top hand rail of the balcony above the stage. In Act 2 the backdrop was lifted (with difficulty) over the flats to show a palace in the distance, with a path and trees in the garden of the Kings of Barataria. The sky and landscape were formed, almost like patchwork, by blocks of coloured material and was made by the directors, I think. The whole effect was to produce one of the most aesthetically pretty shows in recent years.

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