Architecture v. Theatre - The Debate

Friday, June 2, 2017

There were two events to celebrate this illustrious moment: the 40th Anniversary of the Lasdun National Theatre building that was opened by Her Majesty the Queen, on 25th October 1976. 

On the 25 October 2016, a Platform Performance in the Lyttelton Theatre with lighting designer and NT Associate, Paule Constable, architect Steve Tompkins, and Richard Pilbrow, as the original theatre consultant, discussed the building design’s genesis and 40 years of triumphant dramatic success. It was chaired by Prof. Gavin Henderson, CBE, Principal of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The podcast of the event can be reached at:

On Sunday 30 October, in the Olivier Theatre, an all-day Symposium was held to investigate the often troubled relationship between architecture and theatre. An open discussion as to how theatre must often overcome architectural limitations to achieve success. How can communication between the two worlds be improved in the future? What is the impact of changing theatre technology?

An audience of over 300 participated in a spirited debate. Four conference sessions were followed by a working dmonstration of the famous drum revolve in action. Distinguished panelists included: 

Theatre Meets Architecture: Chair: Prof. Gavin Henderson. Director of the NT, Rufus Norris architect Steve Tompkins, designers Ian Mac Neill (scenery), Paul Arditti (sound), theatre consultants Michael Holden and Anne Minors, acoustician Rob Harris.

Theatre Technology: Chair: Paule Constable. NT Technical Director Jonathan Suffolk, designer Em Chapman, sound designer Gareth Fry, lighting designer Rob Halliday, NY Lighting Control Manager Dan Murfin, NT Head of Digital Development Toby Coffey, theatre consultant Peter Ruthven Hall, manufacturer Mark White (ETC Ltd)

A Framework for Freedom: Chair: Richard Pilbrow. Theatre consultant Iain Mackintosh, acoustician Richard Cowell, designer William Dudley, production manager Jason Barnes, architect Tim Foster, theatre consultant Gavin Green.

Changing Theatres and Theatre Design: Chair: Mark Shenton. author Daniel Rosenthal, producer Nick Starr, director Lindsey Turner, designer Chloe Lamford, architects Patrick Dillon and Fred Pilbrow, theatre consultant Mark Stroomer (for David Staples).

Beating the Drum: Chair: Richard Pilbrow. Designer William Dudley, NT Stage Manager Shane Thorn, NT Technical Project Manager Mylan Lester, NT Head of Stage Engineering Steve Colley, SVP Global Head of Automation, Tait Towers, Kevin Taylor.

An exciting day was culminated with the raising of a glass of “Happy Birthday” to the NT, and a vote of thanks to Executive Director, Lisa Burger, for so generously hosting the day’s events. 

Congratulations and thanks go to ABTT CEO, Robin Townley, Symposium Producer, Mhora Samuel, and the National Theatre technical teams and staff who made the day possible. 

Finally thanks to our many generous sponsors, including Aedas Arts Team, ALD, ASD, Autograph, Buro Four, Charcoalblue, Creative Technology, ETC, ETNow, Foster Wilson Architects, GDS, Haworth Tompkins, IoTC, Martin Harmon, SBTD, STR, Sound Space Vision, Tait Stage Technologies, The Mackintosh Foundation, Theatreplan, Theatre Projects, Theatres Trust, White Light.

It is anticipated that an illustrated transcription of the Symposium will be published during 2017.