The Mayflower Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Open Day

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The Edge were lucky enough to be invited to the Mayflower Theatre’s Open Day on September 30th, celebrating their 30th year of being called ‘The Mayflower’. They opened on December 22nd in 1928; and are still the largest theatre in the South.
Formally known as the Gaumont and, originally, the Empire Theatre, the Mayflower Theatre is a Grade II listed building, found close to Southampton’s city centre. It regularly picks up West End shows when they tour, and has a capacity of 2,300. In January 1986, they closed for redevelopment. The whole stage was improved and facilities like a computerised box office were added. They reopened as The Mayflower in February 1987, kicking off with the classic, Peter Pan. Their initial audiences were low and it was called a ‘white elephant’ – “a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness”. But, pantomimes saved the day and drew huge crowds, like the 1994 Dick Whittington which attracted an incredible 126,256 people.

When they opened their doors for an all-access day, they really meant all access. The whole stage, the dressing rooms, even the hair and makeup department (where I witnessed many revolting fake wounds being created). The stage was full of props thanks to The Twins FX, experts in special effects, like Daleks and a giant model dinosaur – so, of course, I had to pretend like it was eating me as the two pantomime dames (Nigel Ellacott and Lee Redwood) looked on (pictures on my twitter, @_Carly_May!). Speaking of the dames, they and everyone else there were incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, giving visitors the history of the place, education on how a theatre is run, and directing them to different areas of the theatre. A fitting choice for tour-guides, considering the dames and their pantomimes were the thing that really got the Mayflower going.

Tickets were only £5, and when I went at around 11.30 the place was packed. You could stay as long as you liked up to 4pm, and there was definitely multiple hours worth of stuff to do! Costumes had been displayed from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Welsh National Opera, with people talking about how they were made alongside information about the whole costume design part of the theatre. Those dresses were SO heavy, so how they waltz around in them under the lights, I have no idea.

There were wig and makeup demos, conducted by Solent University. One little boy was astounded to learn that, yes, even the men have to wear makeup (#SmashGenderRoles). They also had performances from their Summer Youth Dance Project throughout the day, and they were so incredibly talented.

A massive thank you to The Mayflower for such an insightful open day, and, of course, for always being so supportive of everything we do here at The Edge!

Mayflower Theatre’s next show is Mamma Mia! The Smash Hit Musical, which the famous Meryl Streep film is adapted from. Find tickets on Mayflower’s website. See our Features Editor, Rehana, pay tribute to the Mayflower, by recounting some of her favourite shows they’ve put on over the years.
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Third year PAIR student and live editor. Also the Wessex Scene's Head of Events. Fan of cats, gigs and a tea lover - find me rambling about politics and cats @_Carly_May on Twitter.

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