London’s first new purpose-built commercial theatre in decades opens tomorrow (18 October) in the shadow of the city’s famous Tower Bridge, with its co-founder hailing the project as “a completely new type of theatre for the city.”
Nick Starr, who has established the Bridge Theatre with fellow impresario Nicholas Hytner, told CLADglobal
that it “will offer a different level of flexibility for actors, writers and directors working in London.”
The theatre has been designed by architects Haworth Tompkins and international staging and performance engineers Tait, with a prefabricated modular 900-seat auditorium that is highly adaptable and can integrate the latest in-stage technology.
Hytner and Starr – who ran the National Theatre together for 12 years – commissioned the design team to create the Bridge Theatre for its new London Theatre Company, which plans to build others across the capital as a showcase for subsidised new shows.
“We had become intimately aware of the age and nature of the buildings in London's West End, and we started to think, ‘If you could, how would you make these theatres better?’” Starr said. “‘Could they be more comfortable and more 21st century for audiences? Could you improve the backstage areas and give the artists better facilities?’
“This conjecture led us quite naturally to the idea of building something new, because the constraints of a listed building – on narrow footprints, with height-protected views across London – make them really hard to adapt. There's always a limit to things like circulation space and how many toilets you can have.
“Theatre audiences have grown by 25 per cent since the beginning of the century, and it was really obvious to us that there is a demand to build a new one, but with more flexibility built in.”
The auditorium of the Bridge Theatre can respond to shows with different formats, among them end-stage, thrust-stage and promenade – each of which will be used in the course of the opening three productions. The space is also designed to host intimate concerts, the live recording of a new podcast series, and conversations on food, fashion, politics and science.
It is made of precision-engineered steel with oak finishes, in a “first-of-its-kind” modular arrangement that Starr believes will be replicated in other theatres.
“We want to build more than one of these,” he said, “so we approached the design team with the idea that if we could build an auditorium in a modular form that's replicable and permanent there might be a market. We imagined that designers, directors, actors and producers could sit in the seats and see what it feels like, and then maybe want to have one themselves. That's what we've done.
“Our hope is that writers will respond to the space and directors will interpret it in different ways. We fully expect they ask something we never thought of, which will give us the exciting challenge of imagining how we give the space even further life.”
While previews begin this week, the Bridge Theatre will officially open on 26 October with a new comedy,Young Marx
, written by dramatists Richard Bean and Clive Coleman and directed by Hytner. It will be followed in January by a staging of Julius Caesar
The theatre is located within the new One Tower leisure and residential development masterplanned by Squire and Partners.
Haworth Tompkins, who won the Stirling Prize in 2014 for the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool,
collaborated frequently with Starr and Hytner at the National Theatre, including on the recent NT refurbishment, temporary venue the Shed and the NT Studio.