The play’s the factor – however its success is determined by the theatre too

What makes a very good theatre? Critics aren’t probably the most dependable guides. We sit in the most effective seats, don’t need to pay, and are there to evaluate the efficiency somewhat than the constructing. If ever I’ve wished steering on architectural points, I’ve turned to Iain Waterproof coat, who from 1973 labored for Theatre Initiatives Consultants, has designed many profitable theatres and has now put his encyclopedic data right into a ebook known as Theatre Areas 1920-2020. However the revelation comes within the subtitle: Discovering the Enjoyable in Functionalism. On the coronary heart of the ebook lies an assault on modernist concrete buildings and a celebration of any theatre the place actor and viewers take pleasure in a simple rapport.

Waterproof coat covers numerous floor and tells quite a lot of good tales, two of which relate to the previous Shakespeare Memorial theatre in Stratford, which opened in 1932. Derided on the time as a “jam manufacturing facility”, but able to infinite adaptation, it has lengthy been attributed to a 29-year-old modernist architect, Elisabeth Scott. However Waterproof coat implicitly endorses the view that it was the work of her employer, Maurice Chesterton (cousin of the well-known GK). He additionally quotes a narrative about Tyrone Guthrie, on being supplied co-directorship of the theatre in 1950 by Anthony Quayle, saying he would solely settle for in the event that they constructed a brand new theatre with the viewers on three sides. Requested what needs to be accomplished with the present theatre, Guthrie replied, “Bulldoze it and push it into the river.”

In looking for an antidote to modernism, Waterproof coat rejoices in two issues. One is areas constructed of brick and plaster, which, not like concrete, are adaptable. The opposite is what got here to be often called the “courtyard theatre”, modelled on rectangular, galleried 18th-century playhouses such because the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond in North Yorkshire. This was the inspiration each for the Cottesloe (now the Dorfman) on the Nationwide Theatre, and the Tricycle (now the Kiln) in Kilburn, which owe every thing to Waterproof coat’s design. However Waterproof coat additionally singles out the Swan in Stratford, the place he was not concerned, and the place the architect, Michael Reardon, was impressed by galleried church buildings whose structure “had the ability to attract the viewers collectively in a method that fashionable theatres don’t”.

Waterproof coat reserves his anti-modernist scorn for the 2 essential auditoria on the Nationwide Theatre, and it’s right here that he and I half firm. I concede that there’s some fact in Invoice Bryden’s commentary that the Lyttelton is “the most effective cinema in London”, and that each it and the Olivier have acoustic points. However when Waterproof coat writes “it’s exhausting to boost amusing on the broad levels of the Olivier and the Lyttelton”, I gasp in disbelief: I didn’t discover Jack Absolute Flies Once more within the former or The Motive and the Cue within the latter having any nice downside. Waterproof coat additionally underrates the significance of excellent sightlines: a cardinal level of Denys Lasdun’s authentic design. He assaults the steeply raked, fan-shaped auditorium of which the Olivier is a major instance, but I’ve sat in the back of it and had a good view. In distinction, I almost give up a West Finish theatre just lately as a result of the peak of the admittedly stressed man in entrance of me blocked out half the stage. (I used to be glad I didn’t remonstrate with him as he turned out to be the co-lyricist of the present in query.)

The place I agree with Waterproof coat is in his emphasis on the actor-audience relationship. On that depend, along with the Swan, the Dorfman and the Kiln, I’d place the Crucible in Sheffield, the Minerva in Chichester, the Orange Tree in Richmond and the Younger Vic in London amongst my favorite areas. Trying to the longer term, Waterproof coat additionally makes a pointy level when he means that the straightforward availability of stay cinema transmissions will ultimately kill off touring theatre. However the advantage of his ebook is that it’s the work of a knowledgable fanatic, and proves that, whereas the play’s the factor, the body wherein it’s seen is essential to our enjoyment.

This text was amended on 19 July 2023. Maurice Chesterton was Elisabeth Scott’s employer, and later her architectural associate, somewhat than being her father as an earlier model stated.