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From the Albert Hall to Bristol’s Old Vic, the venues that have reintroduced backstage tours

From the Albert Hall to Bristol’s Old Vic, the incredible venues that have reintroduced backstage tours and special events

  • London’s 150-year-old Royal Albert Hall offers hour-long tours of the building  
  • Bristol Old Vic has a new tour where you can soak up its theatrical history 
  • Join the first guided tours of the freshly restored Grand Opera House, Belfast 

Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: Behind the scenes tours for theatre-lovers.

While theatres and concert halls are slowly opening their doors again, many have already reintroduced backstage tours and special events.

London’s 150-year-old Royal Albert Hall is leading the charge. Its team of guides are back on duty and taking groups on hour-long tours of a building that has hosted everything from the famous Proms and operas to boxers, tennis stars and even ice-skaters.

Curtain-raiser: The Proms at London’s 150-year-old Royal Albert Hall

Before lockdown, Hollywood actor Tom Hanks joined one of the tours to see the Hall’s vast stage, its 9,999-pipe organ and the gilded grand tier. Tours cost £16.25 (royalalberthall.com).

In Blackpool, monthly tours of the Winter Gardens restart on Tuesday. The two-hour visit includes the Opera House and huge Empress Ballroom (with space for 3,000 guests) and you’ll get to hear tales featuring legends such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, learn what happened when The Rolling Stones performed, and hear about the show-must-go-on effort for 2020’s Royal Variety Performance.

Upgrade a tour and end with afternoon tea and champagne in the Art Deco Mazzei Cafe. From £12.50, or £30 with afternoon tea (wintergardensblackpool.co.uk).

In Newcastle, step beneath the chandelier of the glittering Tyne Theatre and Opera House, built in 1867 by local industrialist and politician Joseph Cowen (who donated the bricks as well as the money). An hour-long tour will take you under the stage to see the original Victorian machinery that moved scenery around, and you can also expect ghost stories and theatrical gossip. From £6.50 (tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk).

Two-and-a-half centuries of theatrical history are told at the Bristol Old Vic. Take its new Historic Spaces Tour to see the ornate auditorium, the orchestra pit and, if you have a head for heights, a chance to climb into the area above the stage. That’s home to a rare, original 18th Century ‘Thunder Run’, where iron balls are rolled down a wooden trough to recreate the noise of a full-scale thunder clap.

Bristol Old Vic is running a new Historic Spaces Tour where you can climb into the area above the stage

Bristol Old Vic is running a new Historic Spaces Tour where you can climb into the area above the stage

Sinatra’s appearance in Blackpool

Sinatra’s appearance in Blackpool

Private tours can be arranged for up to six people for £50 (bristololdvic.org.uk).

Belfast also offers something new with the first guided tours of the freshly restored Grand Opera House. Book a ticket (they’re selling fast) and follow in the footsteps of everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Luciano Pavarotti to Van Morrison and Darcey Bussell.

Enjoy an hour-long tour or, with children in tow, a shorter, family-friendly alternative. Tickets cost from £9.50 (goh.co.uk).

Finally, theatre-lovers in Scarborough and Leicester can get the inside track on the journey of a play from concept to stage – and maybe even get to see a real-life drama unfold.

At the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, a £5 ticket will get you in to Play Readings, when playwrights and cast sit on stage together to read scripts aloud for the very first time (sjt.uk.com).

The other end of the theatrical journey unfolds at the Curve Theatre in Leicester, where directors aim to allow audiences to come in to watch their final dress rehearsals. Shows that are set to open soon include the comedy Magic Goes Wrong, the musical Grease, and drama Dial M For Murder.

Rehearsal tickets, which cost just £1, are sold on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the show. Find out how to register for them at curveonline.co.uk.

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