Sunday 13 December 2020

Behind the scenes. Literally.


Today I stood on the same spot as the Beatles, the Queen, Bill Clinton, Elton John and Helena Roosevelt. Not all at the same time, obvs. The Grand Old Lady of Queen Street, Auckland Town Hall, which opened in 1911, is now doing behind the scenes tours - but the best bit is the opposite of that, standing on the stage of the Great Hall. I've sat in that audience several times myself - the last time, um, to see Alan Davies? - so it was interesting, and a bit terrifying, to get the opposite view. (The stage was set up for the Messiah tonight.) It seats fewer people these days than originally - we're fussier about more comfortable (and bigger) seats.

It was also fascinating to get up close to the huge German organ with its 4,000 pipes and daunting-looking keyboards with all their knobs. Our guide, Paul, fired it up and asked if anyone could play but, sadly, no-one volunteered, so he just randomly pressed a few keys to show off how it sounds. It would have been lovely to have heard it played properly. It took over two years to build, by 42 Klais personnel sent here.

We did get literally behind the scenes too, down in the bowels and backstage (very plain and uninspiring) but most interesting was hearing random facts about the buildings, such as the £400 prize offered for the initial design equating to a staggering $72,000 today. The final cost, including the land purchase, ended up twice the original budget, at £126,000 - I daren't try to convert that. It can't have helped that the Melburnian architect insisted on the use of basalt from Melbourne, despite our having plenty of that stone right here.

I was pleased by all the symmetry everywhere, but appalled to hear that, when it was built, there was no provision for women to go to the loo. Oh yes, of course there was a men's toilet from the get-go - but any woman caught short during a performance had to leave the building and go down Queen Street to use one in a nearby shop. And that's despite having a bust of Kate Sheppard above the stairs! Pft.

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