OVER the weekend, there were 20 hour-long guided historical tours of the newly refurbished and enlarged Hippodrome, taking in such exciting areas as a stairwell, the sponsor’s lounge, the green room and the rear truck doors.

But the stairwell was transformed into a balcony for a scene from Romeo and Juliet, and the sponsor’s lounge was the venue for a very mad hatter’s tea party. Then the utterly bland green room was the setting for some very colourful rude mechanicals preparing for a play within a play, and the rear truck doors was where a drunken scene from The Tempest was hijacked by the Chuckle Brothers.

The idea behind this walk-through experience, put together by Tees Valley based OddManOut Theatre, was to introduce the 25-strong audience to the new-look theatre, and to remind them of its 110 years of history.

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The guides were 20 local actors who took them round the unromantic modern areas and in and out of the atmospheric Edwardian auditorium. It was a magical mystery tour that mixed Alice in Wonderland with William Shakespeare, and ended with a flickery ballerina pirouetting on the stage as Anna Pavlova had done in 1927, on the night the theatre’s founder, Rino Pepi, died.

At each stop on the wander, a little vignette was played out. So after we encountered a mad Cheshire Cat grinning away at the top of a stairway, we pushed through some fur coats hanging on a doorframe to represent a wardrobe and entered a snow scene in Narnia where we were invited to throw fluffy snowballs at each other.

The scenes were a little disjointed and seemingly unconnected – just like Alice in Wonderland - but a triumph of surreal imagination pulled them together. There was great inventiveness in a trio of Pepis arguing in the stalls and real wackiness in the tea party in the John Wade Lounge where Alice argued with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.

It was difficult to pick out one scene as a favourite, although the excerpt from A Midsummer Night’s Dream played out in the green room was a great snippet of Shakespeare.

And it would be wrong to pick out one actor, although the graceful energy of Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College student Millie Hall was mesmerising, because the real star of the show was the theatre itself.

There were gasps of astonishment from the audience as they were guided across the stage, in and out of the followspot, by a Chuckle Brother with the sumptuous auditorium before them.

This was an enchanting evening that could not have happened anywhere other than Darlington Hippodrome.