Thanks to a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, work has been underway on an important heritage project. Made possible by money raised by players of the National Lottery, conservation work is being carried out for the highly decorated painted safety curtain, which has been in constant use in the Royal Theatre for over 40 years. Specialist art conservators are cleaning the surface of the curtain, repairing the damage and retouching paint losses so it will be preserved for future audiences to enjoy.
Completed in 1978 by nationally acclaimed artist Sir Henry Bird, who lived and worked in Northampton until his death in 2000, the curtain’s dynamic and elaborate design includes figures from classical mythology and the early history of theatre, all painted in the artist’s trademark flamboyant style.
Portraits that border the curtain include important figures in the history of the theatre, including builder Henry Martin, actor manager Lionel Hamilton, designer Tom Osborne-Robinson, barman Denis Richards and Northampton Repertory Company actors Errol Flynn and the artist’s wife Freda Jackson.
In an associated community project, supported by Northamptonshire Community Foundation and in collaboration with Northants Cultural Education Partnership, the theatre’s Creative Learning team have worked with digital artist Chris Lowe and Red Bear Media to develop an interactive website for primary schools which provides additional classroom resources linked to the safety curtain.
The schools are invited to take part in the theatre’s Design a Safety Curtain competition where classes can use their creativity to produce their own curtain design that reflects their current experiences of theatre and what, who and where is important to them in Northamptonshire. Entries will be exhibited as part of an online digital gallery and, for the winning entries, schools will be invited for a backstage tour at the theatre.