16 February 2013

Exploring the National Theatre

I am pleased to say that Prince Charles and I disagree over lots of things, especially architecture. He created Poundbury which I find amusingly bad, it fits in with its area just like Disneyland Paris does, and he despises the National Theatre which I love.

I was back there recently to see a play, oddly enough, and arrived in good time to have a good rummage beforehand.

The reason that concrete was adopted widely and quickly is that it allowed architects to create interesting shapes and spaces that were beyond the constraints of traditional materials. I accept that all too often these freedoms were used to create dull tower blocks (not that all tower blocks are dull, far from it) so it is nice to be able to explore the National Theatre where the potential of concrete has been realised.

There are many things to like about to NT and I'll start with the way that it exploits it's location.

The frontage on to the river is a hierarchy of long windows with walkways in front so you can see and enjoy the river from inside the building and, when the English weather allows, you can enjoy the fresh air too.

The second great thing about the NT, inside and out, is that there are walkways, corridors and staircases everywhere and that makes the building very explorable, if somewhat confusing at times. Besides, confusing is a good thing because I like getting lost.

There are doors to the outside in several places on every level and these take you to new interesting spaces. Edging outside by the Olivier Theatre, and several levels up, I emerged in to an unexpected large space with plants and seats. From here the beauty of the NT is undeniable.

Moving around one of the many corners took me to a realm where the concrete clearly rules.

Here function rules and each block has its own secret purpose.

This is about as far away as you can get from the carpeted comfort of the inside and different paradigms are brought in to play. We are now in Gormenghast where long forgotten corridors lead to long forgotten rooms where long forgotten people used to live.

This place is just a few meters from the busy river and the bustling Waterloo Bridge yet it looks as though as nobody every comes here. Perhaps they don't.

Heading back toward the main block brought me to the business end of the theatre. Behind the windows on the right costumes are designed, cut, repaired, washed and ironed. But all is quiet on a Saturday afternoon and the quietness gives the impression that this is an abandoned city.

The National Theatre is an astonishing building that wears its age very well, possibly because it was built towards the end of the post-modernist period and after brutalism, and it is a real joy to explore its complicated and expansive spaces inside and out.

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