Mural inspired by theatre’s history and stories officially unveiled at Theatre Royal

The Theatre Royal officially unveiled a bespoke piece of art at the heart of its iconic stalls foyer, celebrating the venue’s rich heritage and sharing stories from its past.

Encompassing archive material and stories from the Theatre Royal’s opening to the present day, artists from Handmade Theatre have created an exciting and colourful mural which has transformed the stalls foyer ‘well’ into a vibrant space for audiences to engage with the venue’s past.

The mural depicts a series of sumptuous dressing room settings, peppered with costumes and props from memorable past productions, iconic elements of the Theatre Royal’s design and décor, and a fascinating array of posters, postcards, photographs and newspaper cuttings from the theatre’s extensive archive collection.

Working with staff, volunteers and Nottingham Trent University students, Handmade Theatre’s artists, Suzy Gunn, Lizzie Meakin and Amy Nicholson, started the piece in August 2022. The project took six months to complete, with the artists often working during performances to give audience members the chance to see the piece in progress and to share ideas to inspire the mural’s design.

Now complete, the mural has already proved a fascinating talking point for audiences, and the venue plan to develop it further as an interactive space for use by schools and visiting groups.

Jonathan Saville, Director of Programming at the Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, said of the design; “We hoped Handmade would create an engaging space for audiences to find out more about our long and fascinating history, and they have far exceeded our expectations. The mural they have created is both informative and stunningly beautiful. It so cleverly reflects the colour and excitement of backstage life here at the Theatre Royal, with so many personal and humorous touches reminding us that it is individuals who come together to make the magic happen each night, and have done so for over 155 years. The Theatre Royal has provided so many of us with our earliest and most vivid memories of visiting the theatre. We hope this fantastic piece of art prompts our audiences to revisit some of those fond memories and share them with us, too.”

Amy Nicholson from Handmade Theatre found the evolution of the project a very exciting process; “From initial consultation to producing a design concept, the whole idea was that the design could continue to evolve as we painted it, as we spoke to audience members, as we spoke to staff. It’s something that could be added to, and still could be added to in the future. The result is great because it’s a focal point within the theatre and is something that every time you see it you could find something new and different, and find one of the hundreds of stories that are included in it. We are storytellers, and were trying to tell as many stories as we possibly could, and that was what was so exciting about the process.”

Lead painter, Lizzie Meakin, has enjoyed seeing audience reactions to the mural so far; “We came to some evening performances and we were able to see people walking around the mural, picking out little things and whispering to each other and pointing across and finding something they recognise. That was so enjoyable.”

Gillian Haywood-Widdowson, aged 90 from Sneinton, is featured on the mural in a newspaper cutting from 1949 showing her as a teenager performing in pantomime. As a former dancer and pantomime performer, Gillian is bowled over to find herself featured in the artwork: “It’s marvellous, fantastic, you never dream of it being done like that. I’ve had that photograph in a cupboard for years and years! I used to tour all over the country, but I always came back here for panto.”

The Theatre Royal Nottingham would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Nottingham Civic Society for their financial support for this project.

More information about the Theatre Royal’s stories, people and heritage can be found on the venue’s digital archive here

Next time you visit, can you spot these hidden treasures from the Theatre’s archive within the mural?