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New fun theatre app tour for kids

Now here’s something handy to have up your sleeve for a rainy day over the holidays and beyond.

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Brighton’s Theatre Royal has a new child-friendly ipad app tour on Saturday mornings, which delves behind-the-scenes and shares secrets of the building’s history and how a production comes together.

I thought my nephews would enjoy it, combining as it did a bit of exploring with their much-loved but usually rationed ‘digital time’ and I was right. The youngest even entered into the theatrical spirit by dressing as a crocodile cowboy for the occasion.

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When I took them to see Gangsta Granny at the Royal in spring it was the first time they’d been in such a traditional theatre and they were fascinated by the ornate balconies. In fact I had quite a job convincing them through gritted teeth that the prime seats I’d booked us in the stalls months before were in fact better than being perched up in the gods.

This time we all got to try out those enticing balconies with a seat in the circle plus a peek in the royal box which, we learned, actually has a poor view as it was originally positioned for people less to see than to be seen.

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The tour is guided, with the app supplementing what you’re being told. There are video clips of actors playing historical characters, plus footage of things we couldn’t see at the time, like huge sets being brought in for a new production. The children were also encouraged to find objects of interest pictured on the tablets in the rooms that we were standing in at the time.

The highlight was going backstage where there were huge tangles of cables and shelves and shelves of lights, the entrance to a possible secret tunnel and a very old pump that used to have to be continually operated to stop an underground stream flooding the place.

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We got a glimpse of the actors’ costumes awaiting collection after cleaning and the app explained how a props table works.

Footloose was on the week we did our tour and we got to visit the star dressing rooms (1 and 1A so as not to be seen to favouring one lead) which were about to be reoccupied by Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan. Disappointingly we weren’t allowed to peek inside (in case the stars had left any pooey pants lying around the boys and I decided).

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I learned quite a bit from the tour myself like the origin of the name dress circle and phrase ‘break a leg’, why an olden days pianist used to wear wellies in the orchestra pit and the bizarre things they used to sell at the stage door. Clue…

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I won’t give too much more away but my new favourite nugget of information is where the fishermen whose houses were converted into the backstage area were allowed to dry their nets as compensation.

We ended on the stage itself amid the Footloose set, testing out jokes on an on screen audience.

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It was an intimate tour with just a few of us and the boys got an ipad each. The draw back is that as everyone hits the buttons for various video chunks at slightly different times the apps end up talking over each other but that didn’t seem to bother the boys who were glued to their own.

My nephews are six and eight and I’d say children seven plus would probably get the most from the tour. They also need to be sure footed enough to negotiate trailing leads and steep steps back stage, though the app can also be run on its own for those with mobility problems.

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There’s a good educational element with the guide getting children to guess things as well as talking and as we got further into it the oldest started asking questions of his own.

Youngest particularly enjoyed the story of the pet mouse who got lost in the theatre and multiplied, and the high speed ‘mouse eye view’ film of the route up to the gods. Both also loved the footage of the huge chandelier coming down for cleaning which gave you the option to ‘drop’ it at the end.

Predictably, a sound effects game where they operated buttons and sliders to insert the relevant noise as the on-screen actors mentioned monkeys, sheep and the like proved very popular. Afterwards over ice-cream, as well as imparting their new found knowledge to the rest of the family, the boys keenly recreated the man’s face at the moment you had to insert a burp.

The Theatre Royal is in New Road, Brighton. The app tours are running at 10.15am every Saturday during August and September. They cost £7.50 and last 45 mins- 1 hr. Adult history tours are also available.  atgtickets.com

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