A Tour of Alexandra Palace Theatre

This stunning gladiatorial amphitheatre here
at Alexandra Palace has been home to the Masters since 2012 and for those seven short years
this place has witnessed drama and magic that has become etched indelibly in the history
of the game. However, the history makers that have taken part in this great championship is just
a small part of the legacy of this great palace. Alexandra Palace is being transformed and
the East Wing Restoration Project is already underway with a budget of almost £30 million,
the task they face, like this place, is huge. The total cost gives you an idea of the scale
of the work that is being carried out to restore some of the palaces most historic parts to
their former glory. I caught up with the Deputy Chief Executive Emma Dagnes here at Alexandra
Palace to take a look around at the ongoing restorations. Well we’re very excited about
this project because what this will allow us to do is welcome people into a space that
they can just “be” at Alexandra Palace, to hopefully work on your laptop, grabbing a
coffee from the cafe or coming into our Creative Learning Zone. Okay, well show us the rest
of it will you. Okay, well follow me. This is our beautiful Victorian Theatre which opened
in 1875 but it fell into dereliction quite quickly, so actually it’s been lost to three
generations, so nearly 90 years it has been hidden from the public. So we’ve got this
real amazing opportunity to now give it back. The plan is that we are actually keeping it
as arrested decay because of the fact that it wasn’t ever a shiny theatre, as such. It
wouldn’t really be true to the space if we started to break open the gold leaf. Incredible.
Are we going to the top? We are! Oh no! So this is it then, ey? Up at the ceiling! We
are almost as high as we can go, we will be taking you a little bit higher but I promise
that will be it but this reveals our beautiful ceiling which we are now putting a lot effort
into restoring. You are kidding me, we can’t go anywhere higher than this? We can always
go a little bit higher at Alexandra Palace! We are now in the void, above the decorative
ceiling. So what’s going on underneath our feet is the consolidation of that ceiling
which ultimately is plaster of paris with a mesh and above that you can see we’ve got
these incredible steels that have gone in the truss ends. They have been fabricated
to each individual timber that goes across this vast above the ceiling. So it’s not going
anywhere? It’s not going anywhere. So for the likes of this wall Emma, what do you do
to preserve it? Well it’s actually quite a complicated process to actually ensure that
it stays looking exactly as it does at the moment but ultimately we have professionals that come in and put a resin, a very clear, fine resin over the wall which ultimately
encapsulates what you see today but also stops it from decaying any further. So you’ve taken me the heights now you’re taking me to the basement So where are
we now? We are now underneath the theatre stage and what you can see in front of you
is the most extraordinary example of Victorian wooden working stage machinery and the way
it would have worked is you have these traps that you can see either side and your performers
would have been sat in the traps and then they would have been levered through the stage
to shoot up above as part of the performance. So back here in the warmth, you’ve made me
a nice cup of tea, we’ve scratched the surface of having a look and it was fantastic but
you must have found other things. Well that is one of the most extraordinary stories of
this restoration project because as part of it we have found our collection of archive
that we though we lost in the fire which was 5,000 items of history of Alexandra Palace
with some extraordinary finds, including Cecil Madden who was one of the BBC’s first television
producers – all of his notations and notebooks, memoirs are in the collection but we also
found things that we believed to be Owen Jones’ original drawings which we’re having verified
and the story just goes on. We were very fortunate that Google Arts and Culture shipped one of
only seven scanners in the world to Alexandra Palace which meant we’ve been able to scan
every single one of those items and that’s also taught us about the hidden history
that we didn’t know. So, for example, we were able to, because of the resolution, to see
posters in the back of the photographs that told us when it was an internee camp that
internees were actually being shown news footage from Europe during the First World War about
what was happening in their home countries. So some real extraordinary stories that are
being told through our collection and archive. Well it’s been absolutely fascinating, thank
you very much for spending your time with me but I’ve got to go because I have a final
to shoot off to. Thank you!

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