by Jez Bond

Starting in Richmond at 10.30 am this morning, Ben Jones, Dave Hughes and I headed out west in Dave’s trusty volkswagen. Destination: Stratford-upon-Avon.

Today was the eagerly awaited tour of the RSC’s £112 million renovated home. The project comprises of three theatre spaces  - the temporary ‘Courtyard Theatre’ which was built on the site of the former ‘The Other Place’  as a RST prototype and temporary home during the main build, the 1,000+ seat renovated RST (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, also known as the main house) and the 400+ seat renovated Swan.

There were three purposes to our visit; firstly, and most importantly for us, to learn from the techniques employed, the materials used and the methodology behind the renovation; secondly, to peruse the architectural and engineering marvel that we imagined would await us and, thirdly, to do the RSC bow….

It may seem crazy that our humble 280 seat venue could learn lessons from this immense theatre project with its total capacity of almost 2,500. But, crazy or not, its true. A theatre is a theatre no matter what the size. Their stages, albeit larger, have removable panels to the floor and requirements for lighting access – as do we. The auditorium, whilst different in scale, illuminated identical sightline lessons regarding the circle/balcony seat angles, seat-ways and footrests for one. Having got four different theatre companies to test prototypes, the dressing rooms with their much considered mirror and counter heights provide us with great examples of layout – even if we can’t match the balconies overlooking the river Avon.

In general the entire operation was indeed a joy to see. The money spent had been so in a most unpretentious way and there were no lavish shows of ego from either architects or the client. This is a triumph of old combined with new, where history is retained and celebrated but at the same time modern advances are enabled. It is also a building that embraces its audience, a warm and inviting space – a theatre where Shakespeare appeals to people of all ages and from all walks of life. Me thinks the bard would be most proud. And let’s not forget to mention that with its huge high up air conditioned command centre with floor to ceiling glass overlooking the auditorium and stage below, the RST probably has the most stunning control room in the world. The theatre walls have been pushed in and the intimacy increased so deceptively that it looks little more than a 600 seater.

As for the RSC bow, you’ll have to ask me exactly how that went. Suffice to say that Dave Hughes got a round of applause from some of the builders for his.

The new RSC will open its doors for its first official season early next year – I can’t wait to see it in action…

You can check out the transformation here

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