As a regular theatre-goer, I am always thrilled to watch new productions for the first time. Miss Saigon is a classic, some even call it “the greatest musical of all time”, but I had never known much about or had the opportunity to see it, so it was a real treat to be invited for a backstage tour of the beautiful set before watching the show at the beautiful Bristol Hippodrome.
The first thing that struck me about the set is just how intricately detailed it all is! Set designers Totie Driver and Matt Kinley have created a visual masterpiece; a synthetic world for the actors to completely immerse themselves in. Everything from the flooring to the exterior of the proscenium arch is sculpted to remain in-keeping with the Vietnamese setting.
The “Dreamland” Bar, where Kim works and the ‘Miss Saigon’ contest is held, is covered in a mosaic of cut out Vietnamese magazine articles and in the centre, holds a beautiful Acer tree (inspired by a real Vietnamese war photo) which remains the only thing of pure beauty amongst the sheer degradation of Saigon. Towards the end of act 1, we see Kim return to the bar to hide out but this time the bar is dark, silent and abandoned – a heartbreaking contrast to the previous vibrant, lively energy at the top of the show.
The famous helicopter, that has become synonymous with Miss Saigon, is such a highlight of this production. When I’m watching a musical, I am conscious that the onstage action is not real and that it’s all an illusion but as the helicopter lights appeared, that unmistakable sound panned through the auditorium and this grand structure hovered above the stage, I was completely transfixed. The frame is designed to imitate a Vietnam UH-1 HUEY helicopter and is transported in one piece, taking up a whole truck!
Whilst we were touring, the wardrobe department was busy setting up the cast’s costume rails and laying out clothing ready for quick changes. Behind the upstage wall in the crossover passage is the quick change area for the men with a row of chairs each holding the prepared costume for each actor – it’s truly incredible the amount of preparation that goes on behind the scenes.
Costuming detail is just as important as every piece of set and it’s clear when watching the show that every element of the spectacle is complete. The women’s shoes are all individually made to fit them, the rice hats are all specially imported and all of the soldier’s gear worn by the American GI’s has actually been previously worn in combat!
With a cast of 36, the touring team consists of 110 staff working in all areas backstage during the show – that’s quite the team! The extensive set is being transported around the country in a total of 18 45ft trailers and will take 3 whole days of day and night shifts to get everything organised once it arrives in Plymouth.
This show is truly marvellous. Everything, from the detailed set to the stunning cast, made the whole show so breath-taking that it left me with a physical pain in my chest. I cannot wait to see it again!
Thank you to Company Manager Neil White and Cameron Mackintosh for inviting us backstage.
Miss Saigon is currently on a tour of the UK and Ireland and is coming to Theatre Royal Plymouth 4 July – 4 August 2018! Tickets are available here.
Original blog link – https://behindthecurtainsblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/72/()