Putting the Sparkle into Christmas – Backstage at Birmingham Hippodrome…

Ben Wooldridge, Press & PR Assistant, takes us behind the scenes at Birmingham Royal Ballet as they prepare to bring their iconic version of  The Nutcracker to the stage, whilst the theatre foyers undergo a Christmas transformation all of their own…

The wardrobe dept. hard at work...

The wardrobe dept. hard at work...

Can you believe it? It’s almost Christmas again… and here at Birmingham Hippodrome it has already arrived! As Birmingham Royal Ballet’s festive production of The Nutcracker moves in backstage, the magic is also spilling out into our front of house areas as our foyers are decorated for the Christmas season.

Sir Peter Wright’s timeless production of The Nutcracker is now a well established shining star in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertoire and signals the beginning of Christmas for audiences across the city. This week I took a sneak peek behind the scenes to find out about the hard work and dedication that goes into making the show as fresh and magical as its world premiere back in 1990.

One of the stunning rat costumes used in the show...

One of the stunning rat costumes used in the show...

Ahead of opening night on 25 November (one month before the big day!) over 6 weeks of preparation has already been taking place in a very busy wardrobe department.  The production features over 200 stunning costumes, requiring hundreds of man hours in the sewing on of sequins, shortening tutus, or letting in or out seams. Several new dancers have also joined the Company this year and many of the costumes may need altering to fit them. This all equates to many late nights and early mornings, but a dazzling finish…I think some of my favourite costumes have to be the terrifying rats, who make quite a breathtaking entrance at the beginning of the show!

The props team make the finishing touches...

The props team make the finishing touches...

The props department is also hard at work making last minute touches to numerous iconic objects, such as a remote control rat that charges across the stage, a set of soldier toys, a row of candy canes and, of course, the Nutcracker doll himself. Larger elements of the design, including the massive set are also being prepared and mounted; the scenery, props and lights for the show will travel to the Hippodrome in five articulated lorries from the Birmingham Royal Ballet stores in Dudley. When the sets arrive work will begin on the ‘get-in’ and ‘fit-up’, this process takes approximately three days and another two days are usually required for technical and stage rehearsals; you can watch a fantastic video of the stage preparations here.

Toy soldiers get brushed up before their performance...

Toy soldiers get brushed up before their performance...

The Nutcracker features a huge transformation scene where a Christmas tree grows from 4 metres to 15 metres and a fireplace grows to fill half of the stage! A crew of around fifty people work backstage on the production and during the transformation scene it certainly becomes a case of ‘all hands on deck’. What would a production of The Nutcracker be without a little snow? In the show 75kg of flame retardant artificial snow rains down on the stage, specially imported from a company based all the way in New York!

Birmingham Hippodrome's Christmas sparkle...

Birmingham Hippodrome's Christmas sparkle...

It is not just backstage that has seen a flurry of festive activity, this week has already seen much preparation from our front of house and maintenance staff as decor begins to twist its way up the banisters of the foyer, baubles begin to pave the way for festive visitors and fairy lights dangle from windows and ceilings. 

There has also been a lot of climbing up and down ladders and a very speedy scissor lift, or cherry picker, as staff made final preparations to our very own Christmas tree – the fine looking Birmingham Hippodrome tree now stands pride of place at the enterance of the building, complete with its Hippodrome purple and silver baubles. We also have giant snowflakes raining down on our front facade, making our building look very festive from the outside plus three giant snowflakes inside the building made entirely from various sized baubles!

The lights go up in the foyers...

The lights go up in the foyers...

So, our merry provisions are almost ready for the official start to Christmas this Friday (25 Nov)…all we need now is an audience to bring the Christmas spirit alive, oh and I suppose I need to start the shopping now! See you all at the panto – then it really is time for Santa. For a full set of photos from my backstage tour and images of our Christmas transformation click here.

For more information on The Nutcracker and to book tickets, click here.

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