Young blade trains as opera armourer

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Opera House is taking on its first armourer's apprentice to look after weapons used during its productions.

The opera house in London has decided to take on its own trainee to shadow the official armourer because it has become difficult to recruit people with the right skills. University courses relied on by theatreland have been found to lack the right practical content.

The ROH has appointed 20-year-old Robbie Candy to learn the trade, ensuring all the weaponry needed for productions is in the right place at the right time and in good repair. He will also be making items such as knives and sword holsters used by the cast.

Mr Candy was learning to make and repair guitars at Merton College in south London when he was signed up for the post. He works a two-day week at the ROH – full-time during the college holidays.

He was recruited by Bendy Ashfield, the project manager for the scheme at the ROH, who was convinced students on the college's guitar and violin making courses would be ideal for the job.

Mr Candy, who comes from a theatrical family, saw it as an ideal opportunity to enter a world that he wanted to join. "My family history was in the theatre or showbiz so it feels kind of like I should be working in it," he said. "My auntie was in the Royal Ballet and my grandma was a dancer during the war. One of my great uncles was in a tap-dancing trio and then I had a great cousin who was a singer and an actress.

"I didn't have the talent to act or perform so a backstage job was just what I wanted. So far I've made belts and 'frogs' [scabbards] for holding swords. I'll get the chance to make other things later on."

Mr Candy is learning his trade under the tutelage of Rob Barham, who has been the armourer at the ROH for 22 years.

They have just been preparing for Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi – an elaborate production which needs 100 swords – which opened this month.

"I have to watch Robbie when he's doing something more dangerous like polishing up the swords for the production," said Mr Barham. "There are certain items that could bite back."