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Q&A with Richmond Theatre Technical Manager Ken Savva

Richmond Theatre is co-producing Jeeves & Wooster in October. What does co-producing involve for the technical team?

Unlike with our normal shows, when we co-produce Jeeves & Wooster it will be the first time the set has been assembled from the workshop. It’ll be designed and rigged and it won’t have been lit yet so there will be what we call a lighting session. A technical rehearsal with the actors on stage will take place for the first time. The process will last about a week before we get to the first performance.

When you put the set together for the first time it’s always nerve racking but it’s usually fine and there’s obviously a couple of things that you need to play about with. When we co-produced Passion Play, it was tricky because it had a big revolve in the middle of the set but it all worked rather well. We also work around the actors while they’re doing bits and pieces so every minute counts for everyone. It’s always a very tight schedule.

How is working on a pantomime different to working on a normal show?

It’s more up to us – more like a co-production. We have a production week where we rehearse with the band, cast and lighting designer – and hopefully it opens on time!

The flying aspect of the show is interesting – you’ve got to concentrate when you’re flying people, as you can imagine, and that take up a lot of time to get right. How it works is you have a big pulley that’s attached to the actor so you pull the rope down and they go up. Then someone else pulls another rope which moves a little trolley up in the grid and then they goes sideways. A crew member will be designated the job of operating the flying system for the entire run.

Are there any challenges in working in a theatre that’s over 100 years old?

The main challenge is we’ve got a rake which means the stage slopes. This needs to be taken into account with any new productions coming here because it can affect the way the set sits.

How did you get to this position and what advice would you give to someone who wants to be a theatre technician?

Before working here I was the Stage Manager at Churchill Theatre. I went to drama school in Glasgow in the ‘90s and worked my way up – since then I’ve worked at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, The Bush Theatre and The Hampstead Theatre. I’ve been around for about 20 years worth.

We’ve actually just started an apprentice scheme between us, Bromley Theatre, and Woking Theatre, starting in September. It will train apprentices from scratch but won’t be overcomplicated to start with; they’ll just get an awareness of what’s going on. They’ll be working with the stage, learning about lighting and will go into West End venues for a while, to see how that works, as well as going into college for a day a week. They’ll get a really good grounding in what it’s all about.

Has anything ever gone wrong during a show?

It rarely happens. We’ve had instances where the main curtain has been caught on something, that’s not the end of the world. There was one show I worked on at another venue that had a revolve and one of the actors forgot to push a chair in properly which meant that when the thing turned round it all got stuck and there was a big build up of scenery, chairs and tables. We had to stop the show and run on and clear it. And it was press night!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I think it’s the diversity of the different shows that come in, all be it some of them come back two or three times. It’s nice to work under a bit of pressure to get it up and I think personally co-productions are my favourite, where a show has never been done before. It’s great that our audience have the chance to see shows like Jeeves & Wooster before anyone else. The thrill is seeing it in the West End, which is always a nice feeling.

Passion Play went into the Duke of York Theatre. It’s nice to work on something that ends up being a big hit.