I recently attended a wonderful “behind the scenes” tour of the National Theatre of London. As a former theatre geek this really got me interested again in attending live theatre on a regular basis. London is one of the international centers for live professional theatre. There are multiple theatre venues in the city with the National Theater on the South Bank nestled up right next to the Thames river. In addition there nearly 50 theatres in the West End theatre district, off-West End (similar to off-Broadway) and other repertoire theaters such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. What is unique about the National Theatre, due to their partial support by the Arts Council of England, is their ability to take chances on new playwrights and experimental theatre. High grossing show such as The Lion King and Les Miserables will usually appear on the West End and run for a very long time. They are the big money makers.
The National Theatre houses three separate theatres each with its own personality and characteristics: Olivier Theater, Cottesloe Theater and Lyttelton Theatre. The Olivier, named after the theatre’s first artistic direction Sir Laurence Olivier, is the largest theatre and boasts an amazing drum system beneath the stage which can rotate and lower changing sets several stories beneath the theatre. It is one of only two theatres in the world with this computerized system. The Lyttleton is a more common proscenium-arch theatre which can most easily accept plays traveling from other theatres. The Cottesloe is the smallest and most adaptable space which also can handle theatre in the round. Together the complex is quite impressive.
On the morning we toured they were completing the final touches for The Magistrate, staring John Lithgow, which was scheduled to open that evening. The crew was still painting and assembling the set. It was definitely the last-minute rush.
Wandering around the West End the marquees of the various theatres jump out in 3D works of out. Here are just a few.