by Gus Mckechnie.
For my past decades in Southampton I had wondered what it would be like to be behind the scenes of Mayflower Theatre. I currently work in an office on Commercial Road and pass the theatre every working day. I also used to for a number of years worked in the pub next door when it had been known as the Rat & Parrot and the Encore.
Then one day, as you do, I was scrolling through Twitter, when on the In Common feed I saw an opportunity for a supernumerary role in ‘An Inspector Calls’ at the Mayflower. I sent off the form and photo, then waited for the response. I must confess to looking up what ‘supernumerary’ in this case meant, not realising it was a theatre term for extra.
Then in early October I got the email, confirming I was wanted for the role and I would be part of jury. Scratching my head a little I started to look up Daldrey’s version of the play, I couldn’t remember ever there being a jury. The slightly amusing follow up request came from the company, was for a picture of my hair in a natural state, not something I’m used to being bald.
Arranging half days with work I was able to fit in every show, five evening performances and three matinees. On the Tuesday we were asked to go to the Stage door of the Mayflower and meet the production company for our outfit fittings. Going right to the rear of the Mayflower you start to realise more how far back and how tall the building is. Climbing to our changing room on the 3rd floor I started to get feel how old the theatre really is.
One of the wonderful things to come out of experiences like this is making new friends, the other supernumeraries and I were about to share a unique experience. We were briefed in the main theatre as to what was going to be happening and then took it in turns to have our costumes fitted. Whilst we were waiting our turns it was a good opportunity to watch the technical rehearsals. It was at this point I realised how high quality the production was going to be. The way the scene was set with the lighting and actual rain on stage.
I have mild cerebral palsy and the way we were briefed and handled eliminated any concerns about being on stage.
When it was my turn for costume we went below the stage to the laundry/outfit rooms. Thankfully there was no wig, just a flat cap, smart trousers, scarf and shirt. I had just got my outfit on when we were called up to the main stage for our rehearsals. We were given the point at which we asked to go on stage, which was going to be just over an hour into the play. We were given reference points to walk on and stand at on stage when Eric Birling is questioned and Inspector Goole gives his famous speech. We also got to see and hear how loud the house was when it crashes, mainly so we learnt not to react to the house bang.
Then before the curtain call I was asked to go inside the house with the other cast members before the final twist and curtain call. What followed was a dash to get out of the back of the house and to the side of the stage for the final curtain call. We were ready for the first performance.
We had the option of waiting in our dressing room or green room on the third floor. The PA system in the Mayflower runs right through each floor, you can hear the warmups, audience and performance start. The most essential part was our call, the moment that came we moved swiftly down the flight of stairs to back stage.
Our call came to go on stage and get to our marks. The lighting and on stage smoke didn’t really give us a concept of how big the audience was in the theatre but it was sold out. Not until we went inside the house could we see how many people were in the audience.
The audience throughout the week reacted to different parts of the play in different ways. From Tuesday to Thursday there was a big reaction to the on stage fight, while on Friday and Saturday there was more of a reaction to the subtle humour. By the end of the first performance I felt a rush and a boost of confidence. Outside of the theatre you really got a picture of how many people across the South it brings to Southampton. There were coaches from companies from the Weymouth and Dorchester area.
Throughout the following performances we became more and more used to the routine. Whilst there was the option to be in the green room and watch the live stream, the PA system seemed to work better in our changing rooms. The moment that allowed us to breathe in the experience and realise what we were part of more came at 6:30 on Thursday, when we were allowed to take pictures on stage. I started to notice more the size of the theatre and the details in the set. There was a part of the stage where the female leads could lie on the stage in their full dresses. The Birling’s house was very detailed inside. The photos I later found out were all previous cast members.
I can’t emphasise how much I enjoyed the week, what it did for my confidence and the people I got to know. Even before the final performance the main casts’ bags were packed and people were preparing to pack the rest of the set ready for the next performances in Newcastle.
I remain very grateful to In Common for highlighting this opportunity which has given me a boost to my confidence and valuable memories. Not something I would have seen on other forms of media and for me highlights the need for something truly local.
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