profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities

No. 6 in a continuing series

Caricatures by

David Lewis

Mervin Stokes and Séamus Shea

Manager and Production Manager, Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, Isle of Man

While the rest of the industry moves madly ahead with technological advancements Mervin Stokes (right) and Séamus Shea (left) of the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, Isle of Man are quietly re-creating the past.

This year marks the centenary of the Gaiety, built by Frank Matcham in 1900. In 1990 Mervin Stokes, aka 'Matcham Man' or 'Victorian Spice', had nothing better to do so he spearheaded a restoration project of Matcham's finest remaining Victorian playhouse. Séamus Shea joined him in 1984 and other than maintaining their day-to-day duties of picking up empty ice cream cartons and booking look-alike bands for the Manx public, they crusaded the restoration.

Each year they worked at gathering in sponsorship from some of the many financial outfits based on the Island and then proceeded to lavish the money raised on refurbishment during the annual shut down period in the January-February period.

The project, now nearly complete, includes re-blocked wallpapers taken from the original designs, re-woven carpets, re-seated areas as per the originals, restoration of all frescos and plasterwork, removal and re-installation of all sound and lighting equipment in the auditorium to discreet and un-obtrusive positions and the gem, the replacement and commissioning of all its original stage machinery (courtesy of David Wilmore).

Mervin and Séamus are very proud of their old 'heap' and to publicise the project conceived and performed an illustrated lecture to promote the splendour of the venue, taking it around the UK. "There is no point having the finest example of a Victorian playhouse if no bugger gets to see it," said Stokes.

"Our aim is to encourage people to come to the Isle of Man to see the theatre, the performances, and to show off the wonderful stage machinery," added Shea.

The Centenary Celebration programme is running through until the end of August and includes 'The Corsican Brothers' with full working Corsican Trap!

Meanwhile, Mervin and Séamus are currently looking for another restoration project - in Tuscany!!!

Look out for the next subject in our Profile series...

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