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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 15, 2020

These photos are taken over quite a long time span and feature various elements of the theatre. There are three main architectural parts to the theatre as it stands today. The oldest parts are from 1879, those that were left after a fire destroyed the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The next phase was that built in 1932, designed by Elizabeth Scott that replaced the 1879 theatre, and most recently the ripping out of the whole core of the theatre leaving the 1932 façade and the 1879 features to add a steel and glass box crash landed inside the original two iterations. At least we have a fire to blame for the first one going, we only have pots of unlimited public cash and donations and the needs of over paid primadonna's to blame for the ripping out of the 1932 one. £112,000,000 of cash to be exact, although how exact we'll probably never know. And yes, all those zeros are correct. In words it is one hundred and twelve million pounds.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) is a 1,040+ seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated to the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is located in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare's birthplace – in the English Midlands, beside the River Avon. The Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres re-opened in November 2010 after undergoing a major renovation known as the Transformation Project.

This is what remains of the oldest sections still standing. The idea of a theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon was not new in 1875 when Charles Flower donated the building site. But what he came up with was the idea that the town should have a permanent subsidised company of actors. The theatre, a Victorian-Gothic building seating just over 700 people, opened in 1879 with a performance of Much Ado About Nothing.

The original estimate for building the theatre, art gallery and library was £11,224. However, the final bill was closer to £20,000 (the equivalent of just over £1 million today). Charles Flower donated £22,700, along with the land on which the building and gardens are situated. He also donated the building and cottages on the opposite side of the street to the theatre, the rents going towards the maintenance of the building.

So for £1,000,000 you get Gothic arches and hand carved stone gargoyles, and a theatre that Oscar Wilde himself called one of the loveliest erected in England, but for £112,000,000 you get scaffolding. The Gothic version was awarded a Royal Charter in 1925 and promptly burned to the ground. For the cost of the 2010 scaffolding version you could have built 112 Gothic theatres.

This is The Transformation Project in action. The transformation involved removing the 1932 theatre, apart from the outer walls, here you see them being held up while the guts are ripped out.

That big hole is what is called a transformation. If people had makeovers on this scale you could ditch the filler and Botox and just chop off their heads. The RSC was certainly open at this stage, open to the skies. Even the King cannot believe his eyes.

Here on the left you can see a curved wall held up by blue braces. That is the 1932 theatre. That is how much they valued it.

The architect was Elisabeth Scott, so the theatre became the first important work erected in Britain from the designs of a woman architect.

I suppose we ought to be grateful that the Philistines who run the RSC thought enough of it to at least save the outer wall. They also saved the staircase. Below is a scene from the meeting at the planning office.

This was the side view below, of the 1932 theatre during the Great Transformation. Here they are punching new holes in it and patching up old ones. I mean what is a theatre these days without a café bar on the ground floor and a scenic restaurant on the roof.

The theatre has a new Rooftop Restaurant and Bar with views over the River Avon, a Riverside Café and Terrace, a Colonnade linking the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres together for the first time, the PACCAR Room exhibition space, and a 36-metre-high (118 ft) tower which provides circulation and views across Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding area from its 32-metre-high (105 ft) viewing platform.

The only thing they didn't add was a pole dancing club and a casino, no imagination at all. That colonnade by the way? It's sort of more of a gift shop. The tower we paid £112,000,000 for? You have to pay to go up it.

The Courtyard Theatre was a 1,048 seat thrust stage theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England operated by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). It temporarily replaced The Other Place theatre during the redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare (RST) and Swan Theatres. The last performance at the Courtyard Theatre took place in 2010. It was replaced by The Other Place in 2016, which returned as a 200-seat studio theatre in 2016.

That's right, this city block sized shipping container is yet another theatre, that they actually built so they had somewhere to be "in character" while they trashed the other one and replaced it with scaffolding. I'm talking about the scaffolding that stayed up because apparently it isn't scaffolding it's actually the new theatre.

This scaffolding is the new theatre.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre opened in 1932 on the site adjacent to the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (opened 19 April 1879), which had been destroyed by fire on 6 March 1926, whose name it took. It was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1961, following the establishment of the Royal Shakespeare Company the previous year.

In the building designed by Scott, the theatre had a proscenium-arch stage, and a seating capacity of about 1,400 people, on three tiers (stalls, circle and balcony). Two tiers of seating were later added to the side walls of the theatre and the stage extended beyond the proscenium, by means of an 'apron'. Balcony seats could only be accessed by means of a staircase to the side of the building, separate from the main foyer and bar. The building is clearly read and displays its plan at first sign and from every angle. There is little detail to the decoration, simply a few inconspicuous and mysterious carvings in brick.

The quality of the interior is clear immediately with a beautiful pale-green marble staircase. Elsewhere in the building there are a number of art deco features, notably the numerous exotically designed doors. It is a Grade II* listed building.

I think they mean it was a Grade II* listed building, it's now a Grade II* listed façade. That listing or the little added star obviously helped, or they would have knocked the façade down too. And did you notice that a modern theatre company that I guess would claim that they want to bring more people into the theatre, spent £112,000,000 to knock down a 1400 seat theatre to replace it with a 1040 seat theatre. The only person I know who has been, said they would never go again as the new design means about half the audience can't see anything.

The audience can see plenty from the new roof top restaurant and tower though, who needs plays? I'm willing to bet more customers use the café and restaurant on an average week than see a play.

This is the staircase of the 1932 theatre which survived, and which gives a flavour of what ended up in the skip from the massive hole in the middle.

The reflecting pool at the foot of the staircase.

The Art Deco ticket office, now just an empty decoration. I mean who needs this when you have a Colonnade Gift Shop?

Here is the full splendour of the monstrosity that cost £112,000,000. Just stare at it for a while. Yes, this is it finished, not during construction. Even the swans are looking the other way in embarrassment.

Cute tower. There's one just like it on Drax B Power Station. They haven't got a lift in theirs of course. I love the way it compliments the roofline from 1879.

Yes, this is one building, not a photomontage. There was no Photoshop selection and merge needed here. You get the overall impression best summed up by the look on the gargoyles face. If there was a speech bubble there it would go something like this "First we survive a catastrophic fire then this?"

Art Deco details from 1932.

Details below from the 2010 version. On second thoughts I've just realised that this was a security fence they later removed.

Yes, sorry about that, the attractive metal sheeting above was a security fence, this is the detail below from the 2010 version featuring really really expensive attractive metal sheeting, not sure why I confused those two shots. I mean you can really see the quality in the security fence above.

The narrow windows on the overly large tower give it a sort of Prison Watchtower feel. Easily defended I suppose in the next peasants revolt. I'm loving the gun emplacements.

This is the theatre bar, I've earned a drink and who wants to pay a fortune to see a play without a view. This view looks pretty good to me. Ice and Lemon?


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