Going Backstage at the City’s Most Prestigious Venues

Renowned fine art photographer Peter Dazeley, frequent theatre goer, takes us on an ocular journey into his new publication London Theatres. Part of a series following London Uncovered and London Unseen, London Theatres explores forty-six theatres in the thespian capital of the world with a suitably artful and theatrical approach. Peter’s exquisite and luxurious photographs depict the diverse architecture, the public areas and backstage of some of the most spectacular theatres in London. His work encapsulates the historic and cultural presence of the revered theatres in page after page of unfalteringly detailed images.

London Theatres_JKT

The Plus speak to Peter about what draws him to the theatre as a subject area for his photography, and what has kept him hooked on the topic.

The Plus: These are famous theatres that owe a huge part to the history of the stage in Britain, did you have much knowledge of these buildings and are you a regular theatregoer?
Peter Dazeley:
Yes I regularly go to the theatre. Over the years I must have seen hundreds of shows, but as paying customer, I’d never really realised the beauty of our theatres.

Actors View Shakespeares Globe
Shakespeares Globe (Actors View)

TP: Which was the most rewarding of these theatres to photograph?
Wiltons Music Hall, the oldest music hall in the world, It is amazing that it has survived. It has been beautifully restored, and is still putting on performances. It is hidden away, down an alley in East London

TP: Did you go to see any performances while researching the project?
Yes I saw the Harry Potter ‘Cursed Child’ with my daughter, at the Palace Theatre. When you go back stage, you realise that a show like this has a mass of amazing technology behind the scenes.

Alexandra Palace Theatre

TP: There’s a majesty in these images that is clearly collected in part from your subject but also in part from your method, how do you partner the two to create a true image?
My aim is to record the London theatres as they stand in the 21st Century, shooting with available light and very long exposures. I deliberately don’t use any artificial lighting as this would change the feel of the Theatre. A lot of the images are shot with wide angle lenses, for example I love to show the actors’ view from the stage.

TP: Grand and unusual structures seem to be a running thread through your work, what have you learnt about photographing them over time?
My aim was really to bring the theatre to life for the reader, to show the individual character of each theatre and also backstage, which the theatre goer wouldn’t be able to see.

Royal Opera House1
Royal Opera House

TP: Did you prefer the grander or the smaller theatres?
I love the variety of theatres we have in London, all doing their best to entertain us.

TP: How long did you use to complete this project, and what’s the most memorable shot?
About 9 months, but I had already shot a couple of the theatres, which had featured in my previous books London Uncovered and Unseen London. I think the most memorable shoot was at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, next to Shakespeare’s Globe on the edge of the Thames. It took a long time to fit this one in, it is a busy theatre and there is no electric lighting, it is totally candle lit. So even when I got there, it took a long time to light over 100 candles. It went on to make a stunning cover of the book. Interestingly when the theatre started, the use of candles had to be auditioned by the Theatre’s insurance brokers and the London Fire Brigade.

Auditorium from the circle Wyndhams
Auditorium from the circle Wyndhams

TP: Was it difficult to get the access?
All the theatres were very generous with their access, although with some of the big shows, where they rehearse during the day, it took a long time time to find a date. I had to wait for great weather for the Regents Park Open Air Theatre.

TP: What do you like about the theatres when they are empty?
It is lovely to embrace an empty theatre, it gives me time to take in the beauty of the ceiling, the views from the Royal Boxes, all the things you can’t do in a darkened auditorium when you are watching a show. I wandered on the stage, behind the scenes, visited the fly floors, grids, dressing rooms etc it was a lot of fun.

Actors view from the stage_Theatre Royal Stratford East
Theatre Royal Stratford East (actors view from the stage)

TP: You covered London’s unseen and London’s forgotten, both projects you’ve had a personal relationship with. Now you’ve moved to a subject much more visited and documented, what was your personal relationship with this book?
My first two book ideas I took to my publisher Andrew Dunn at Frances Lincoln, but this book was his suggestion, and I jumped at the chance. It was great to work with theatre critic Michael Coveney who has brought the book brilliantly to life with his wonderful words of wisdom, based on 50 years of covering Theatre.

TP: Will you be looking to document well-known/well loved structures again?
Yes, I have a couple of ideas, but Ive got to feel passionate about the subject. So well see how my research goes ahead.

Hackney Empire from backstage
Hackney Empire from backstage

New 3.4 million fly floor Barbican Theatre
Barbican Theatre

Rear Stage Donmar Theatre_One Night in Miami
Rear Stage Donmar Theatre

Regents Park Open Air Theatre
Regents Park Open Air Theatre

View from back stage Regents Park Open Air Theatre
View from back stage Regents Park Open Air Theatre

Theatre Royal Haymarket_Royal Receiving room built for Queen Victoria upon her request
Theatre Royal Haymarket (Royal Receiving Room, built for Queen Victoria upon her request)

Theatre Royal Haymarket_Inside Royal Box
Theatre Royal Haymarket (Inside Royal Box)

The Stage from the Auditorium St martins
The Stage from the Auditorium St.Martins

Wiltons Music Hall
Wiltons Music Hall

The mousetrap at St Martins Theatre
The mousetrap at St. Martins Theatre

London Theatres by Peter Dazeley, Text by Michael Coveney, Foreword by Mark Rylance. Published by Frances Lincoln.