Heritage & Culture

Stamford Shakespeare: if you build it…

The three plays for the Stamford Shakespeare Company’s 2019 summer season were cast in November, ready for January rehearsals. However, those intervening winter months saw a hive of activity at Tolethorpe Hall as the company undertook much needed repairs and renovations, as Theatre Manager David Fensom reports...

The most vital piece of work to be tackled was replacing the wooden stage. Prior to 2005 the stage was a solid floor. However, in 2005, a trap room was built beneath the stage and a wooden floor constructed to provide access to the stage floor from below for that year’s production of the Ben Jonson comedy The Alchemist. The wood was replaced in 2011 after six years of use.

This time it had been left for seven years, but that was definitely a year too long as a lot of patchwork was needed during the 2018 season when the boards began to disintegrate. The majority of damage to the wooden stage is caused by the enormous sets (weighing up to three tonnes) which split and crush the wood as they are moved around.

The Company decided to switch from using a soft wood to a hard one and chose keruing timber. It is hoped that using this hard wood will enable the stage to last twice as long as the soft wood did. Over five tonnes was ordered from a company in Liverpool. Nick Carlton, who builds the sets for the Company, carried out all the repair work. He began in November and expected to be done within a couple of weeks. However, when he stripped the wood from the stage it was found to be far worse than anticipated.

The sub structure was rotten and most of it fell apart. Nick set to work straightaway. He replaced all the joists, cleared the sub base out and tidied up and rebuilt where necessary. Work was slowed by various complications, not least of which was the fact that Nick could not use power nailers and stainless steel nails as he had hoped. The nails were just not strong enough to go through the hard wood and so screws had to be used. However, in order to use screws each hole had to be pre drilled and pre counter sunk first, more than quadrupling the fixing time. When the work was eventually completed (taking more than a month) the total wood used consisted of 1,635 feet of joists and 2,467 feet of floorboards and a staggering 5,500 screws were used.

The stage replacement included a slight extension to the front of the stage, bringing the action a little closer to the audience. This will be even more pronounced for this year’s production of Julius Caesar (not performed at Tolethorpe for 27 years) which will have an apron added to the front of the stage. The front row of the audience could very well feel like part of the show! The other work which took place over winter was much needed renovations to the cast toilets and make-up room.

Obtaining two grants enabled the Company to go ahead with the work. The flat roof of the make-up room had been leaking and water was running down the interior walls, so the roof was resurfaced and the walls and floor repaired. The cast toilets, having not received any attention since the Company first moved into the hall and carried out initial repair work over 40 years ago, were completely refurbished. Both toilet areas were stripped out, replacing rotten wood and floorboards. New toilets, hand basins, flooring and cubicle arrangements were installed. With all winter work complete and rehearsals starting in earnest, the casts of this year’s plays are very much looking forward to using these new, improved areas.

The booking line is open for this summer’s season of plays, which are: William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night & Julius Caesar Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit Box office: 01780 756133 For more information and to book online: www.stamfordshakespeare.co.uk

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