The National Theatre on the Southbank is about to embark on a major upgrade of the building, which is nearly 50 years old and starting to show it.

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The project will replace failing end-of-life theatre systems, support repairs to the Olivier Theatre’s scenery lift, which is vital to the theatre’s operation, and develop solutions for the refurbishment of the Olivier theatre’s unique stage drum revolve system.

The theatre upgrade is expected to cost around £125 million, of which £35 million has already been raised from donors, and a further £26.4 million has been provided by the government. That leaves them with nearly £64 million to raise to ensure the works are completed in time for the building’s 50th anniversary.

The investment also supports the funding of the National Theatre Skills Centre, which provides engagement, skills development, career support and training opportunities nationwide across a breadth of specialisms for over 5,000 people each year. To date, 90% of apprentices trained at the National Theatre have gone on to be employed in the sector.

Although the upgrades will see the theatre spaces repaired and brought up to modern standards, people who love the building’s concrete brutalism will be delighted to learn it’s not being touched.

Those who think it looks like a carpet sale warehouse (Yes Prime Minister) might be less than delighted.

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  1. ChrisC says:

    I remember seeing the first play in 1988 to use the drum revolve properly and not just to revolve.

    It was a stunning piece of stagecraft with separate halves being able to rise and fall and spin all at the same time

    Of course it wasn’t all plain sailing.

    During a performance of A Little Night Music the drum sank for a set to be cleared before rising again to make a flat stage for the next scene which used the entire stage.

    But the drum didn’t rise and a stage manager had to rapidly halt the performance mid song! Judy Dench and the cast all left the stage (avoiding the huge hole in the middle of the stage) and returned a few minutes later once the drum was reset.

  2. Alan Spooner says:

    I’m no fan of Brutalism but I’m glad no one is about to mess with the integrity of the architecture. Where this has been done before the results are usually pretty ghastly. A good clean wouldn’t go a miss though.

    • Juno says:

      Didn’t the outside get a good scrub-down somewhere round the turn of the century? Concrete can look stained and manky if it isn’t tended to, but my recollection is that it ued to look a lot grubbier than it does now.

  3. Dave Smith says:

    Interestingly (or not!) Denys Lasdun expected the concrete to become covered in lichen.

  4. Geoff Cosson says:

    I really don’t like the grey concrete look. I have no problems with the design/shape of the building, which reflects the fashion of its day, but aging concrete is just so depressing.
    Nearby concrete buildings on the South Bank have experimented with brightly painted areas, which can be done cheaply and changed regularly.
    That would be much more fun.

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