What a delight it was to spend a day at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. Obviously a lot has been written already about the new building by Bennetts Associates and Buro Happold, but my particular pleasure came from experiencing it myself and spending time with two very different users.
I saw the first full Shakespearean performance in the new auditorium, a wonderful performance of King Lear. The theatre was buzzing before the performance, and again the next day, when I first walked round the building with theatre enthusiast Rosie Keep, and then met James Tucker, the actor who had played Oswald. Photographer Stewart Hemley took this picture of them both in the auditorium.
Then we photographed James in his dressing room, and he took me to the staff canteen and told me how much better the new theatre is for an actor. Everything from proper showers, to not having to crawl underneath the stage. And the acoustics are great as well.
I am writing about this for the next issue of Patterns, Buro Happold’s magazine that it is publishing twice a year.
I had an in-depth tour around Bennetts Associates’ office, tucked away in a triangle of streets in Islington, and centred around an old drovers’ hostel which they call ‘the barn’. The only hairy (literally) moment in the restoration was when samples had to be taken away and tested for equine anthrax – common practice apparently for buildings from the days when horse hair was used in wattle and daub. Luckily it came up clear.
I had never realised the thinking behind those marvellous bell-topped Venetian chimneys which form a key part of so many marvellous paintings.
until I heard Peter Fisher of Bennetts Associates speaking about the practice’s work on Hampshire County Council’s offices. The Venetians, apparently, were terrified of back draughts and used this form to avoid them.
Bennetts has put ‘chimneys’ onto its building to facilitate stack ventilation, using the same principle.
Marvellous to see someone referencing Italian architecture in terms of function rather than form – and the inevitable second-best pastiche.