Theatre Royal Plymouth is celebrating another big birthday! This time it’s TR2, the Production and Learning Centre, which is 20 years old this month. I was treated to a tour and got to see how this ‘factory for theatre’ operates.
TR2 has everything a production needs to get show ready – three rehearsal spaces, Wardrobe and Workshops, as well as office spaces and a base for community groups. We are so lucky to have this facility as there are only a few in the UK and visiting theatre productions love it!
When Matthew Bourne’s show comes to town, for example, they can rehearse in a room that is the same size as The Lyric stage, just across from the Workshop where sets might be being created and along the corridor from Wardrobe, where performers can try out their newly-fitted costumes in rehearsal. What’s more, the large doors mean that sets can be wheeled straight in from the Workshop to be road tested.
It’s like a one-stop-shop for all your production needs! This all helps the flow of preparing a show for performance and adds to the reasons why big productions love coming to Plymouth!
Head of Wardrobe Delia showed me around the Wardrobe department which is vast and beautifully organised! She proudly explained the role of Wardrobe on a show, either at the literal drawing board to design, create or source costumes, or at TRP calmly supporting quick changes and fixing any problem that might arise with safety pins, needle and thread or gaffer tape! It’s usually zips and shoe buckles that go wrong, she tells us!
We walk through the aisles of fabric remnants, buttons and paper patterns, all meticulously labelled and arranged in tall shelves like a library. There are boxes of wigs and facial hair in all colours and sizes and one beautiful wig is drying on a model having been washed and blow dried. It’s real hair and is treated in the same way. Upstairs, the costume store is just as organised, with rails and boxes containing period costumes, 90s shell suits and armour, as well as every type of hat and shoe you could imagine. It’s a wonderful collection and one that is available to hire for performances.
The Wardrobe also features a laundry that boasts machines that can wash ball gowns and wedding dresses. Tutus, it would seem, can’t be washed though, so Delia says dancers really have to love their art (and their sweat vests which can be washed after every performance). TR2 has its own dyeing room and Delia has many different tricks for making costumes look older or dirtier in the most authentic, yet hygienic, ways. The costumes have to look dirty but be clean, so it’s a challenge, but one that Delia and her team are more than ready for. It’s a well oiled ship (excuse the pun!)
The Workshop is where sets are created, not only for co-productions with TRP, but for productions much further afield. Part of the award winning sets from My Neighbour Totoro (that recently won awards for Best Set Design – amongst many other things) were built in this very space. Those sets are now in Japan and sets built for Bat Out of Hell are now in America. Anna, one of the Makers, shows us around, excitedly telling us about all of the different things she and the team have created. A gigantic framed portrait of Sir Ian McKellen hangs in the workshop, fondly kept from a 2018 production of King Lear. There’s also a claw from a grabber machine suspended from the ceiling that Anna assures us is made of wood, although it totally looks like it’s metal.
Architecturally, whether or not the steel, industrial look is for you, TR2 is a prize-winning building. It is the vision of Ian Ritchie Architects, supported by Arup engineers, and won the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust Building of the Year Award in 2003, alongside other accolades and nominations.
When presenting the design concept Ian Ritchie wrote this poem…
For me, the idea of ‘unknown stories’ that ‘sit upon the rocks’ really resonates with the purpose of TR2. Whether it’s the coming together of community groups to create original plays or the putting together and polishing of TRP productions or touring shows, TR2 is the melting pot for these ‘unknown stories’ to develop and emerge ready for TRP, the West End and beyond.
So, next time you find yourself walking along Plymouth’s Waterfront Walkway, maybe pause and pose next to the bold TR2 sign and wonder while you wander about what magic might be being created inside those innovative walls today.