Royal Albert Hall -- Guided Tour review
I've never been inside the Royal Albert Hall before and I'm quite looking forward to it. The closest I've ever got to the auditorium is watching The Proms on the telly -- the bit where they all stand up waving the Union Jack like we've just won the World Cup. It's definitely one of London's best-looking buildings from the outside -- let's hope it's pretty on the inside too.
You don't have to splash out on a concert ticket to see the stage, because they lay on some guided tours of the Royal Albert Hall throughout the day (assuming that they don't need the space for something else, of course). Most of the shows are in the evening, so if you want to play it safe then you should roll up in the morning. I arrived at half-past nine today and I'm currently sitting in the nice little cafe waiting for it to start.
Okay... so it's all over now (I couldn't write anything down whilst it was going on). I always hate writing reviews after it's all over because my memory is totally useless -- but if I'd tried to scribble it all down whilst I was walking around then I would have probably fallen down the stairs, so you'll have to forgive me.
As tours go there wasn't much to it, to be honest -- you don't get to see very many rooms for 12 quid -- but I think I would still recommend it. The main auditorium is worth the entry cost alone.
Our group was pretty small, about ten people in total (there is a maximum of 20 on any one tour), and we were led around by a Billy Bragg-style guy who was quite entertaining. He was friendly enough, had some decent jokes, and told us all we wanted to know about the history of the building, and that's all you need. He kicked it off with a quick walk around the corridors, pointing out some of the photos on the walls to show you what kind of events they hold. Then you go into one of the foyers and have a peek out of the window at the exterior wall. It's a very impressive building to look at from the outside, all red bricks and terracotta, and he spent some time explaining what changes have been made to it over the years.
There was a surprising amount of historical info about Queen Victoria, and how Prince Albert came up with the idea for the Hall after counting up the proceeds from the Great Exhibition. In fact, I would say that the focus of the tour was more about its history than the music, which suited me down to the ground. There are loads of historical pictures and portraits on the walls, even down to some old newspaper pics of the Crystal Palace. Sadly Albert died before the Hall was complete, so you learn a lot about how Queen Victoria turned it into a big memorial for him. This is reinforced by some good views of the Albert Memorial as you walk around the windows.
After that you get straight to the meat and potatoes of the tour. He leads you into one of the Grand Tier boxes, and all of a sudden you find yourself looking out over the whole auditorium from a few floors up. It really is a fantastic looking place -- all deep reds, warm browns and bathed in pink and purple lights. It's a bit like a Roman amphitheatre I suppose, with every seat looking inwards towards the stage. Half of the height is made up of tiers and posh boxes, with comfy plush chairs looking down over the balcony. You get a great view of the mushroom-like bulbs hanging from the ceiling too -- apparently they had a bit of a problem with the echo when it was built, and had to fudge a fix to get it sounding right.
After that you get to peek inside the Royal box where the Queen sits. Then it's straight across the Royal stairs and into the Royal Retiring Room. That is where the Queen comes for her pre-show cup of tea. After that it's up another few floors to the Gallery that runs around the top of the auditorium. I've never seen a space like this in a concert hall before -- it's basically a stand-up corridor that runs around the whole circumference, where people can come and peer over the edge at the show below. The stalls are usually situated down below the stage, but the Royal Albert Hall has got some in the heavens as well! And because the Hall is relatively small, you get a pretty decent view from up there (something to bear in mind if you need a cheap ticket).
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