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09 August, 2006 - Published 11:20 GMT
Royal Shakespeare Company's new theatre
Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is officially unveiling a new theatre today in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where William Shakespeare was born. 'The Courtyard' will be the RSC's main home until its existing theatre reopens in 2010. This report from Vincent Dowd:
As the critics settle down to a marathon premiere of Shakespeare's three-part Henry the Sixth their eyes may wander occasionally from the stage to the theatre about them - because the play is inaugurating the Royal Shakespeare Company's new home. The Courtyard is a temporary structure but long-term temporary, filling in the big gap while the interior of the 1932 Shakespeare theatre nearby is extensively reconstructed.
The Courtyard isn't at all like what the architect Elisabeth Scott built for Stratford in 1932. It's been said she designed something more like a plain suburban cinema than a landmark theatre and her critics point out she never designed another major project. Yet at the time there was little notion of what a non-commercial theatre should look like.
Now the new Courtyard is a prototype for what's to emerge four years from now in the shell of the old theatre. Gone the proscenium arch, or 'picture frame', concept - to be replaced by a thrust stage - the audience sitting on three sides.
Theatre design has changed as social attitudes have altered. The old division into Stalls, Circle and Gallery reflected class divisions unacceptable in an age when culture depends so much on public subsidy. Proscenium arch theatres are now held to be alienating. So though its roots may lie in the Renaissance, Stratford's new wrap-around design reflects a very contemporary idea of social inclusion.
Vincent Dowd, BBC
its roots may lie in the Renaissance
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