The tour started with a brief history of theatres in Plymouth and of the building of the current theatre, which was designed by Peter Moro and completed 1982, when it was opened by HRH Princess Margaret. The theatre was built by Plymouth Council and one of the first questions asked by Peter Moro was what size of theatre did they want and as the Council had not come to any firm decision on size they asked what he would suggest. He responded by suggesting a 1300 seat auditorium, probably influenced by his experience in designing theatres such as the Festival Hall in London, serving an area with a much larger population than Plymouth. As it was unlikely that a 1300 seat theatre in Plymouth would be full very often and in order to avoid performers having to be faced with large areas of empty seats, Peter Moro developed a radical design having the ceiling and top floor of seats mounted on an hydraulic system of supports, thereby enabling the size of the auditorium to be 1300 seats or 800 seats depending on the show and the expected size of audience.
We were guided through the maze of corridors and rooms behind and below the stage area. The corridors are surprisingly narrow, with hardly room for two people to pass each other. It is thus difficult to see how they cope with productions involving performers dressed in large costumes and full skirted women's dresses. The walls and ceilings have no covering over the bare concrete used to construct it, which gave it the feel of the underground prisons often portrayed in films, in total contrast to the magical scenes being produced for the audience. We were shown one of the dressing rooms used by supporting cast members. This was just as bleak, although we were assured the stars of the show had more comfortable dressing rooms, some of them even including an en-suite shower room. It was pointed out that although the accommodation appeared spartan, it was a great improvement on the facilities in many of the older theatres.
In addition to the Lyric, the main auditorium, we were shown the Drum, a more intimate 200 seat auditorium which is used mainly for new plays and collaborations with small production companies. In 2013 an hospitality area was converted into a 50 seat community performance space called the Lab where we met three young people working on a project, with a stuffed fox sitting in the Directors chair! We were then shown the area underneath the main stage. Here there is machinery to raise and lower an area for an orchestra which had required cutting a pit through solid rock. The pit floods when there are exceptionally high tides! When being shown the main Lyric auditorium we were lucky to have the opportunity of seeing the warming up and practice procedure of a group of acrobats who were in the Cirque Macabre show, and met a group of South American stunt motor cyclists in the same show.
The 90-minute tour was excellent in showing the complexity of all the background work involved in providing a wide variety of live entertainment of a very high standard. All in all it was a very interesting visit.