The grade II* listed theatre was designed by Denys Lasdun and opened in 1975 to critical and public approbation, but in the intervening decades its harsh concrete forms have softened on the body politic, and it’s now difficult to imagine the South Bank without it. Yet even aficionados would accept that there has long been room for improvement.
The project, by architects Haworth Tompkins (responsible for the recent Young Vic refurbishment), seeks to subtly transform the building’s relationship with its site and re-orient it toward the riverside path. On the site of an existing service yard will be a new cafe and bar, with the bookshop being relocated to the south of the site. A new education centre will welcome 50,000 more people, while the most striking change is the creation of a public roof garden beside the Lyttleton flytower, while the hitherto little-seen Cottesloe theatre will refurbished be linked to the other spaces by a walkway that takes audience members through the backstage areas.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, NT director Nicholas Hytner described the recession as “exactly the time to be planning for the next 50 years”, noting that the theatre was opened during the dark economic days of 1976. One can only hope he’s proved right.