Theatre Royal Plymouth Plays Its Part In WW1 Centenary Commemoration at Tower Of London

Guy Channing

Theatre Royal Plymouth Plays Its Part In WW1 Centenary Commemoration at Tower Of London

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Theatre Royal Plymouth will be making an important contribution to the First World War centenary commemorations in the capital this year, thanks to the skill and expertise of the Theatre Royal Plymouth workshops at our Production and Learning centre, at TR2.

To mark the centenary, an installation of ceramic poppies will be unveiled at the Tower Of London on 5 August, 100 years to the day since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. The evolving installation by artist Paul Cummins will gradually fill the moat with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each poppy representing a British military fatality during the war. The idea was inspired by a war poem by an anonymous soldier ‘The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’.

Theatre Royal Plymouth’s workshops were commissioned to build the steel structures that form an integral part of this installation, creating a dramatic visual framework for the poppies as they gradually surround the medieval fortress.

“Our involvement in this project marks a significant branching out into other areas of design and construction for the team at TR2 with a new balance being struck between what is sculpture and what is scenery building. It’s been a fascinating project to work on.” Seb Soper, Project Manager, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

The elements of the commission include ‘The Wave’, a steel construction engulfing the entrance to the Tower with a cascading wave of poppies; ‘The Weeping Window’, a steel construction of poppies cascading from a window on the top floor of the Tower which gives the effect of the window ‘crying’ poppies and ‘Over The Top’, a construction of poppies over the top of the wall of the Tower into the moat, seeming as if poppies are gushing out from within the Tower.

Theatre Royal Plymouth first became involved in the project in May when the team at our Production and Learning Centre were shown the designs for the installation and investigated ways of turning the designs into full scale constructions, working with Olivier award-winning set designer, Tom Piper.

The steel constructions, with attached poppies, were completed by the team at our Production and Learning centre earlier this month and then transported from Plymouth to the Tower of London, with all the poppies carefully covered to ensure they weren’t spotted before they were revealed at the Tower. A team from Production and Learning centre put the structure in place in the early hours of the morning, in time for the first visitors at the Tower to catch an early glimpse of the installation. Over 8,000 volunteers from across the UK will be planting the clay poppies in the moat throughout the summer.

The logistics of putting the structures in place at the Tower were challenging. A crane was used to lower the steel structures in place and a reinforced temporary decking was installed to ensure the historic moat wasn’t damaged by the weight of them.

Brendan Cusack, Workshop Manager, Theatre Royal Plymouth oversaw the installation of the structures at the Tower: “This has been an incredibly rewarding project to work on, although putting the structures in place at the Tower of London wasn’t an easy task. The Tower of London was built to withstand battles with a moat that is not easily accessible for obvious reasons. Coupled with this, we were faced with adverse weather and had to work around a thunder storm. We may not have been met with arrows from the battlements, but it did feel like we were being met with lightening bolts instead!”

From 5 August 2014, each poppy will be available to buy. All net proceeds – hoped to amount to millions of pounds – will be shared equally between six service charities. The final poppy will be symbolically planted on 11 November 2014.

See the gallery of images on the left for more pictures of the installation.

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Update 5th August 2014

Many of you have asked about purchasing the ceramic poppies which make up the installation. We are pleased to say that the poppies are now available to buy for £25 (+ P&P) from the Historic Royal Palaces website.

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