Love Southsea have teamed up with Lulu’s old school — Mayville High School Southsea — to visit local tourist attractions, museums, and art spaces, giving pupils the opportunity to meet and interview Portsmouth influencers.
This week, I took a group of Year 8 boys on a live history lesson, around the beautiful Edwardian Kings Theatre. Our tour guide was Terence Carvalho, the theatre’s Front of House Manager. Terence is on the frontline to all the main shows, making sure they all run smoothly with the help of his army of staff.
The Kings Theatre was built in 1907, now with impressive royal colours of red seats and golden walls — much more to my taste than the original orange and green deco it started with! Although the theatre has not seen much royalty through its doors, it’s hard not to feel special when you’re in there.
I wonder if this is why all the staff I meet, no matter the capacity — meetings, fun panto shows, dramatic theatrical productions, etc. — are so happy and content with their work. And, in turn, why so many stars and shows want to return to the theatre to perform again and again!
Also, when you go to The Kings Theatre on your next visit, have a look around at the décor — if you look closely, you can see seashells and other seaside references.
We were stood in the stalls of the magnificent building looking up at it. Terence asked the kids, ‘how long do you think the theatre took to build in 1907?”
We had answers of ‘three years’, ‘five years’, etc.
When Terence told them the theatre only took 13 months to construct, one youngster said: “What! Nowadays, it takes them six months to build a blooming Lidl!”
Terence’s knowledge of The Kings Theatre is top-notch, and it was clear the boys were loving every bit of the tour. Here are some of the things they said:
“The manager was a very nice guy, and showed us everywhere. He even took us to the spotlight area and tower room, giving us the best view of Southsea! His colleagues were also very friendly: the technical manager showed us the iron safety curtain raise up.
“Terence showed us around all the nooks and crannies of the place — some of which are never normally open to the public. The box seats have a very interesting origin: rich people used to show their superiority by sitting in the box seats that overlook the rest of the auditorium. They don't have a very good view of the stage but that's because the rich used to come to show off to others rather than watch the show.
“We were also allowed in the dressing rooms of famous stars! Later, we went to the highest floor of the theatre — the gallery. Me and my classmates were terrified because of how high and steep it was.
“Terence said that some of his colleagues have seen ghosts at The Kings Theatre. They say they have heard noises and odd sounds. Also, our tour guide told us a mythical story about a woman who jumped from the top of the theatre and died — her ghost can apparently still be seen and some theatre staff even leave a rose on one of the gallery seats for her!
“We also got to sit in the boxes. Terence told us this is where rich women used to sit and use ‘fan language’ to speak to the men. Normally, the first five rows of the stalls were where the rich people sat and the rest were for the common people.
“Finally, we got to go right under the stage to where the orchestra would wait before making their way to the orchestra pit. They used to have to row there because of the swamp that Southsea is built on!”
Back in 1907, the first five rows of The Kings Theatre were for the elite rich. Their chairs were separated with a barrier to the other seats in the stalls. These first rows of seats had their own bar which is still in place next left to stage.
In this day and age, ladies were not allowed in the bars, so if they wanted to get a drink, their partners would serve them via a small hatch. This is why the theatre was originally built without ladies toilets.
The theatre had lots of door entries and turnstile entry points leading theatre-goers up to their appointed seats. But even the walk up to the gods felt glamorous, with the beautiful china tiles and stained glass all the way up.
The Kings Tower is my favourite room, with a 360º degree view of Southsea. To me, it feels like a fairytale room that would not look out of place in a Disney film, with white wood and stained-glass windows.
Perhaps one of the coolest things about the history of The Kings Theatre is that it was originally built on the Great Morass, so there used to be a small river beneath the stage, which the orchestra would have to row across to get to their pit! Very Phantom of the Opera.
Over the months, The Kings Theatre are hosting Heritage Open Days, where members of the public can go in and take the tour. I wholeheartedly recommend you go — it’s an amazing local history lesson!