Crewe Lyceum, which is the only Edwardian Theatre in Cheshire East, was the lucky recipient of a group of Audlem WI ladies who decided a tour of the theatre combined with afternoon tea was just the thing as there was nothing better on the telly that day.
The way the world is I think a tour of a theatre is a good thing, to take our minds off terror, worrying about potholes in the road and other worldly worries. After all, there's such a sense of theatre in getting glammed up; it's like putting on a play or a short film in itself.
Like all the best families, Audlem Wi have our share of eccentrics and impetuous and wayward ladies, but this just adds to the fun as, upon arrival, the group crossed an appropriately placed red carpet and were treated like film stars as they began their tour in the 'gods'.
After the group stopped hyperventilating, due to the steepness of the climb, oxygen masks were removed and our ladies were able to admire the view. The sight lines were excellent, even though you probably couldn't see the whites of the performers' eyes, and the acoustics were thrillingly resonant, proven by the cries of some who were not used to such a disconcerting height!
The group then moved on to the 'Royal Box'. For those of you who have only heard about 'Royal Boxes', this is an area specially reserved for the most distinguished, important and elite to sit and watch the plays. Our ladies were right at home here as, like true royalty, they graced the 'Royal Box' wearing their finery, regardless of the fact that this was not really the best seat in the house as all you could see were the wings of the stage, merely a seat to 'see and be seen'.
Whilst there our guide pointed out the only working Sun Burner up in the centre of the roof. This was formerly run on gas and was an old fashioned form of air conditioning. So next time you visit look up at this amazing piece of engineering.
Slowly working our way downwards, we arrived at the stalls and sat down to hear the fascinating history of the theatre, about the fire, the circus coming to town and the lion tamer being mauled. Many famous faces have been on stage in the Crewe Lyceum and it has always been well known for their pantomime performances.
The origin of the fire which completely destroyed the theatre in 1910 was never discovered, but a dropped cigarette in one of the dressing rooms was suspected – another reason to give up smoking! Thankfully, the gutted theatre was rebuilt in 1911.
Crewe had a number of regular shows from Gandy's Colossal and the South African Circus, and people regularly lined Mill Street to watch the spectacle of the circus animals parading their way to the Lyceum for their performance.
These circus shows, could be quite dangerous, as a trainee lion tamer with the Royal South African Circus was mauled on the Crewe Theatre stage by a lion called 'Satan' during a performance. The tamer was walking towards the lions when he tripped on his trousers, but fortunately another trainer managed to keep the lions from killing him by grabbing 'Satan's' Mane!
On another occasion, due to the weight of the animals, props had to reinforce the stage and side of the stage floor, especially after an elephant almost fell through the floor into the cellar!
Next we all paraded onto the stage and could imagine ourselves as actors viewing the whole of the audience. Getting older, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true we are gently shouldered off the main stage, but then we are given such a comfortable front seat stall as a spectator that it really doesn't matter.
Something none of us had realised was the rake on the stage which is 1:18, making it one of the most sloped stages in the country. Very difficult for ballet dancers in particular, to say nothing of the elephants!
Backstage we went into one of the dressing rooms, very small and not very inspiring. Personally I find that the hardest part of trying clothes on in a dressing room is trying not to cry, however it's not how big you are in the theatre, it's how well you play!
We didn't go down into the cellar because of the dangerous steps, our guide looked a bit doddery, so we felt it was for the best, but we were told about the old well which is underneath the theatre and was there when the very first theatre was built originally as the old chapel for itinerant Irish navvies.
The last part of the visit was to the dining room where we enjoyed a sumptuous afternoon tea of sandwiches, dainty cakes and scones with cream and jam.
What can be better than a combination of fine tea, enchanting delicacies and soothing surroundings exerting a therapeutic effect by washing away the corrosive strains and stresses of our modern life?
Combine this with the company of like minded ladies and you have the perfect combination for a great day out.
A big thank you to Joyce Clydesdale who sources and arranges all our WI trips, and she has organised some really inspirational ones this year, with what appears to be consummate ease, but in reality is dedicated hard work!
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