The summer of 2003. What were you doing? If you’re young enough not to know, let me fill you in on a few things… Tony Blair was still in power, Beyonce was “Crazy in Love” and social media barely existed. Investment in the arts was relatively high on the agenda and, in the midst of a glorious heatwave, TRP’s sister project, TR2 was born.
Fast forward twenty years, and the world has changed considerably yet TR2 still has a contemporary appearance. So, what is its secret? I went on a tour to find out….
Its link to the main site is automatically noticeable when you arrive through the industrial looking doors. There’s a familiar figure squatting. Yes. You’ve guessed it. A scaled down version of TRP’s beloved Messenger is positioned in the entrance ready to welcome you.
TR2 was set up as a one stop shop for theatre makers; a place where actors, directors and writers can work side by side with set builders, fabricators, costume fitters and designers. This means that companies can collaborate in a way that is unimaginable in other UK theatres thus cementing Plymouth’s status as a place to produce and premiere.
Unlike TRP which is in the heart of the city, the site proudly stands at the bottom of a rather quiet and dare I say it, dreary looking industrial estate. Approximately 10 minutes from the centre, you’d be forgiven for questioning the logic behind this low-key location. However, when you see the site’s proximity to the sea and the stylish rocky riverbank surrounding the building’s eye-catching bronze pods, all becomes clear. This is a unique spot worthy of such an ambitious project.
It is worth noting that TR2 is not just used by staff and theatre companies but also by their education department and a variety of outreach groups. Funky Llama, the Young Company and the People’s Company all use this space regularly. School groups too also benefit from the building when they work with theatre groups including Frantic Assembly and The RSC. Working in such a stylish building with professional actors and directors must be incredibly inspiring and a far cry from the old stuffy school halls I recall as a member of the Young Company during the mid-90s. (Not that I am complaining – I still loved it!)
Indeed, if you are an actor or director mainly used to shabby studio rooms in big cities, the large, bright and airy rehearsal rooms here must be an absolute God send in terms of space and their panoramic views of the sea. For amateurs and professionals alike, TR2 is a creative sanctuary in which everyone can artistically thrive.
The tour is a fantastic way to get to know the production process and the history of the building better. After a reunion with (mini) Messenger and a general introduction, you are ushered to Wardrobe….
This part of the tour is a must see if you are into fashion, design, or history. You learn juicy details about the unsung heroes of theatre; the costume makers and dressers who have a major part to play in ensuring the actors are able to do their job well. From making to fitting, to dressing and storing, Delia Lancaster gives a calm but passionate account of her job. She does not hold back. The best bit of course is visiting the HUGE costume department upstairs. You get around 10 wonderful minutes to scour its immaculately organised shelves and wracks. It was enough time for me to discover a rail featuring a wide range of glorious vintage wedding dresses. Surrounded by all these stunning gowns, I felt like Sarah Jessica Parker in The SATC movie when she models for the bridal edition of Vogue! A definite personal highlight of the tour.
After learning about everything from sweat laden tutus to beards made from goats’ hair in the costume department, we met the wide range of people that build all the sets. This team are award winning and recently made a large part of a set which picked up an Olivier Award for Best Set Design. (They worked on The RSC’s My Neighbour Totoro.) But even though this department are a world renowned and a well-respected crew, you won’t find any prima donnas. They are far too busy for any off-stage drama and you see them hard at work under the watchful eye of Sir Ian McKellen. (A large painting of McKellen’s Lear looks down authoritatively at all the hard graft taking place in this gigantic warehouse.) They let us take a peek of part of the set for We Are The Land and gave us a potted history of some of their favourite sets including The Magic Flute, Kneebone Cadillac and even The Spongebob Musical. The great thing about this slick and shiny looking department is that although it is now coming of age, it still feels fresh, forward thinking and on the cusp of even greater things.
And that is perhaps what the beauty of this building is. Yes, it might be responsible for producing a whole host of hugely successful shows but, like Messenger, it keeps its feet on the ground with one eye on the horizon. I, for one, can’t wait to see what TR2 will deliver over the next twenty years and feel grateful for its existence! Happy Birthday TR2