Backstage at Glyndebourne and Motown in Eastbourne – cultural extremes!

Well, Battleaxe certainly gets about. I’ve been on a backstage tour at Glyndebourne, followed by an outing to the Congress Theatre to see the Motown show, ‘Dancing in the Streets’.
     The Glyndebourne visit was arranged for us by our old friends Bob and Alison, who now live in Horsham.
     It was the first true crisp and frosty autumn morning we have had, and the drive over there was very pretty.

A lovely Sussex morning

     Although the other two had been to the opera at Glyndebourne, Philosopher and I have never been before, and we didn’t know what to expect. Reading the blurb, it was clear that our companions on the tour were likely to be elderly – they warned us of steps etc. Realistically, we thought, for able-bodied people, just how many steps can you have in a theatre, unless we were going to be shinning up the ladders to the fly-tower?
     Indeed, when we assembled in the Old Green Room for coffee, many were indeed elderly. We were asking each other how long it will be before we stop going to cultural events and feeling ourselves to be some of the youngest there? Where are the young people to take over from the oldsters?

The old Green Room at Glyndebourne

     Anyway, the woman leading the tour was very good indeed, nipping any bores in the bud, and leading us around just at the right pace. There were a couple of potential bores – ‘Of course, when I was with Opera North we….’ and  ‘I can well remember doing flying changes in the wings in Buxton…’ etc.
     I hadn’t realised the theatre was rebuilt in the early 90s – the wood-finished auditorium gives it a look of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, which is the same age. We went and stood on the stage. Somewhat unwisely with Battleaxe in earshot, our guide said ‘Sing something, then you can say you have sung on the stage at Glyndebourne’.

Looking down from the stage

     The first thing that came into my head was ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ from Gluck’s Orfeo, quickly followed by a rapid shift right up the voice register to ‘Voi che Sapete’, from the Marriage of Figaro. Deciding that opera was totally out if I couldn’t even decide what sort of voice to use, my mind went blank, then filled with ‘My Old Man said Follow the Van’. That is what I sang, getting plenty of odd looks and videoed by Philosopher until the woman told me off for going too near the front edge of the stage….. The video is available to view on receipt of large sums of money.
     The backstage area is enormous and very impressive. We looked round there, then at the rehearsal rooms, went up and inspected the dressing rooms – very functional looking, a bit like cabins on a ferry boat. We looked at props and costumes – interesting, because contrary to popular belief, the lead singers must have tiny waists – not large ladies at all. Then we climbed up to the upper circle of the theatre and inspected the lights. It was all good stuff.

In the wings
Prompt corner
Back stage


No fat ladies singing round here…

  Bob and Alison told us that you don’t have to go to the actual summer festival, you can go to cheaper, lower-key productions of the touring operas in September/October.We will go next year.
     We finished the outing with an excellent lunch at a really good pub, the Ram at Firle.
      In the evening, something completely different. A WI outing to ‘Dancing in the Streets’ at the Congress in Eastbourne.  We went there all together on a coach. Again, I hadn’t a clue what to expect and I’d never even been to the Congress. It is absolutely huge – much bigger than the White Rock, and that is barn-like enough. At first it looked a bit dubious because the theatre was barely two-thirds full.

     But when the show started – wow!  There was a really good band, and four blokes who all sang and danced incredibly well. Four Tops – check. Temptations – check, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder – they did them all, and absolutely brilliantly. Three girls, also very good – Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas – oh yes. We managed to stay in our seats for the first half, albeit singing along and clapping, but at the interval some of us found an empty row and danced and sang ourselves senseless for the whole of the second half.  By the end, the whole place was on its feet.  From our lofty dance platform at the back of the raised stalls we were directly in the sight-line of the blokes on the stage, and were trying to follow their classic 60s Motown dance routines. It was a complete, uncomplicated, uplifting laugh.

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