The National Theatre
The need for a national theatre was first proposed in 1848, but it took over 100 years for the project to finally be brought to life. The foundation stone was laid in 1949, but in 1959 the government stated that the nation couldn’t afford a national theatre, and so it wasn’t until fairly recently – 1963, that the National Theatre Company was eventually formed. Even then, the company was based at the Old Vic and didn’t actually open in South Bank until 1976, with its first production of Hamlet at the Lyttelton Theatre.
The Olivier and Cottesloe theatres (now called the Dorfman) were opened shortly after, and the Oliver is modelled on the ancient Greek amphitheatre at Epidaurus, the oldest theatre in the world. The Olivier has a massive stage revolve that extends 8 meters below stage.
The National Theatre building was designed by Sir Denys Lasdun, and was notoriously described by Prince Charles in 1988 as "a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting". The building certainly doesn’t leave anyone cold, and is in the unusual situation of having appeared simultaneously in the top ten "most popular" and "most hated" London buildings in opinion surveys!
Despite the controversy, the National Theatre was awarded Grade II listed status in 1994 and is often cited as an archetype of Brutalist architecture in England, as well as having been compared to the work of the famous French architect, Le Corbusier. Recently, a new lighting scheme was introduced, with colourful floodlights illuminating the stark edges of the building, which has proved extremely popular with the public.
Also popular is the temporary theatre in front of the National Theatre, which is a favourite spot for taking pictures. The red structure will be in situ until March 2017.
The National Theatre houses three auditoriums and a number of rehearsal rooms. Unusually for a theatre, the National also has set-building and scenic painting workshops, costume- and prop-making and digital design in-house; with around 1,000 people working on its five-acre site. You can see all of the action from the newly introduced “Sherling High-Level Walkway” – an amazing walkway from which you can see all of the backstage action going on.
Since its inception, the National Theatre has presented over 800 productions, with some transferring to the West End and occasionally to Broadway. If you can’t make it to a performance, you can watch live broadcasts of the shows at many cinemas across the UK and the world with the National Theatre Live programme.