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Behind the Scenes at the London Palladium  
After nearly 100 years of variety acts and singing nuns, the London Palladium lifts its curtain…
The London Palladium

First opened to the public in 1910, The London Palladium soon became known as THE variety theatre. Among the many stars to tread the Palladium boards were Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole; and in the 1950’s the TV show Sunday Night at The London Palladium made the theatre world-famous.

As part of the recent Story of London festival, the London Palladium opened its doors to offer members of the public an exclusive chance to see what goes on behind the scenes with The London Palladium Variety Trail. Access-(almost)-all-areas building tours led by extremely knowledgeable theatre staff revealed many of the Palladium’s secrets, including the fact that the marble pillars in the building’s foyer reflect the style of the Duke of Argyll’s original home, Argyll House, which originally occupied the site where the Palladium now stands. The walls – which are not made of marble – were painted to look as if they were in the 1990’s. They had an interesting technique for doing this: feathers were used instead of paintbrushes to create the marble affect.

And that’s not all that’s interesting about the London Palladium foyer. Above the steps leading to the theatre’s Cinderella Bar hangs a picture of June Tripp, one of the original Hitchcock Blondes. Until recently, her image hung in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane but it was moved to the London Palladium in part to highlight another Hitchcock connection – the auditorium and stairs beneath the painting were used in the final scenes of Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps.

Of course, the foyer is just the beginning for visitors to The London Palladium – and actually it’s not usually the beginning, as the box office is located next door. To modern eyes the box office appears about three times as big as it needs to be but this is because in the days before computer bookings, lots of space was necessary to accommodate the queues of people waiting to get a paper ticket for one of the twice-nightly variety performances. Currently, the London Palladium Box Office is also home to the Living Archive Exhibition, which celebrates the history of black performance in the UK.

A few feet away from the box office visitors following The London Palladium Variety Trail were given a peek into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s personal space, used for entertaining guests, and later on, a glimpse of the Royal Box – where traditionally important guests were sat so that the audience could see them. The view from the Royal Box is actually not the best in the theatre, but previous occupants include Prince Charles and the late Queen Mother, so at least the company was good.

Tanya, an actress who has previously appeared at the Palladium in The Sound of Music, gave members of the public a chance to take their turn in the spotlight, taking visitors onstage and behind the scenes for a glimpse into a world of ladders and props, sudden set changes and sound checks, as members of the Sister Act crew – the Palladium’s current show – continued with their daily maintenance. Offstage and down a maze of corridors, the functional rehearsal room with its well-worn red floor was far less glamorous – although the props left in the room included a perfect replica of the Sister Act set in miniature…

Standing in the area that connects the Palladium with the original ‘house next door’ – 8 Argyll Street, a historic building that was once occupied by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving – was another highlight of the London Palladium Variety Trail.

It might currently be housing singing nuns, but for the Palladium, variety is still very much the spice of life…

Visitors wanting to see behind the scenes of the London Palladium can contact the theatre manager to arrange guided group tours. Visit the Theatre Tours page for more information.

Posted on: 2nd July 2009

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