As the Met Office issue a Level 2 heatwave alert throughout Southern and Eastern England, temperatures in London are set to climb during this week to over 30°C.
But if we are finding it difficult to work in this temperature, spare a thought for our West End actors out there who are struggling with the burgeoning heatwave under a bank of lights, often wearing heavy costumes, wigs and thick make up.
We popped into Her Majesty’s Theatre, to find out how the cast of the Phantom of the Opera are coping. Although the public areas of the theatre benefit from an air cooling system, on stage it is a very different temperature.
The London Phantom, Ramin Karimloo, has discovered a couple of tactics to help him cope. First he shaved his head – a rather drastic measure we don’t necessarily advise! – but a slightly more practical tip is that drinking Sport drinks such as Lucozade help to replace the vital electolytes lost by perspiring under the lights.
Although he mentions that he struggles a bit through Masquerade – “that Red Death costume weighs a ton”, generally Ramin doesn’t have too difficult a time, “I personally love the heat, the hotter the better for me, but what I can’t cope with is the variations in temperature. I don’t mind being really hot on stage, but I can cope if it’s constant. I have a problem with going from the hot stage to the cooler dressing room and then back again”, he waves his arm to demonstrate the space around him. “But I shouldn’t complain, I am very lucky because my dressing room is large enough to have lots of windows which I can open”
Gina Beck, as Christine, is also blessed with a sizeable dressing room, equipped with fans – of the electronic rather than the Phanatic kind. But the heat generated by the two sets of dressing room lights is quite punishing. “It’s not possible to control them individually, and the room is quite dark, so we need to have all of them on, but they are turned off as soon as I leave the room in an attempt to keep it a bit cooler”.
It’s not just on stage where the temperature soars. Gina adds, “the worst thing is that there is no respite from the minute you leave the dressing room. The wings are just as hot”.
Gina also has to cope with some very heavy costumes. Some are so heavy they are difficult to lift, let alone move around in onstage. She has found a quick fix, “”I have a new method involving spraying myself with magicool water spray and then using my battery fan before every scene to cool down. But sadly as soon as the lights hit me it all evaporates and the sweat starts rolling down my face… Eugh!”
It’s an unpleasant subject, but sweat has to be dealt with! Ramin explains that the sweat gets trapped underneath the bald cap. “If it gets too bad I have to make a small hole”, he pokes his head with his finger “to release it!”
This sweating plays havoc with the make up. The Phantom’s prosthetics are fine as long as they are applied to a dry face (although the Vaseline has to be kept in the fridge as it is otherwise liquid), but they move around, or completely slide off, once the face gets wet. Tanya Noor (make up artist) is busier than usual, following Ramin around backstage reapplying stray pieces and touching up patches.
Gina finds she has to frequently reapply her melting make up in her dressing room and also has to cope with the long heavy wig. “It gets so hot that the wigs drop and the curls fall out, so in this weather they have to be re-set in the interval using “hot sticks” which maintain the tight curls in the fringe”.
The heatwave is not all bad news though. Ramin has found that the current heat brings distinct advantages. “Peter Karrie (a former Phantom) told me that he found during a tour of Hong Kong and Singapore the humidity was great for the voice. Now I know exactly what he meant!”
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