Tales from the Theatrical Woods: Chapter 10
16 September 2016
If you approach the new opera house site from the house you pass through a richly mature orchard where the espaliered pear trees have long since outstripped the walls against which they were once trained and where mulberries, damsons and apples hang enticingly from boughs above you. You leave it through a small door in the north wall and enter a setting barely conceivable a few months back.
Making this transition is astonishing. With even a small portion of the 6 miles of steel frame in place, just a large hole in the clay and the horseshoe of the auditorium so far defined by foundations in plan only, the impact of the whole is upon you. It is now possible, with a smidgeon of imagination, to sense the presence of the new opera house occupying the clearing that we made so recently in the woods.
Over the last two weeks there have been daily deliveries of red sprayed steel. Some of the units are so long that it has been touch-and-go whether the truck would require outriders for the journey from factory to West Horsley. The deliveries are phased in such a way that the pieces furthest from the unloading dock arrive on site first. The 60 tonne, telescopic boomed, mobile crane swings into action, first placing them on the ground adjacent to the structure and then hoisting them on two implausibly delicate chains into position where they are received and bolted into position by two steel erectors stationed in, slightly swaying, articulated cherry pickers. The first four units were vertical masts. They rose to the full height of the building and defined the back of the stage. They had to be fixed to fractions of a millimetre exactitude and absolute verticality onto bolts sunk into the top of the foundations. For a period these four masts stood sentinel, unsupported each sitting on a 12 metre deep pile.
On 13 September a small rectangular hole was cut on the site concrete on the floor of the pit in the position of the first violins and the Duchess’s ashes were laid to rest with a suitable gathering of luminaries from the two charities – the Mary Roxburghe Trust and Grange Park Opera – in attendance.
David Lloyd Jones