A trip down literary lane

Monday 06 Sep 2010

British literature takes centre stage as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre undergoes an extensive redevelopment programme

This November, a £100m revamp of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, England, will come to a close. After suffering in silence for many years with outdated and inaccessible facilities, the RST engaged the help of Bennetts Associates to lovingly restore the Grade II* listed theatre.

Bennetts Associates approached the project in three stages (apologies!):
• A temporary Courtyard Theatre was constructed on the site of The Other Place studio theatre, taking only 11 months to complete and acting as the main theatre during the entire transformation process.
• New spaces were built to house the RSC Nursery, rehearsal rooms and administration hub at Chapel Lane.
• An intricate blending of past and present, exemplifying the RST’s ambition to ‘create the finest theatre for audiences and artists to enjoy and perform Shakespeare’. A 1,000 seat thrust stage auditorium was constructed with seating on three sides, whilst the distance of the furthest seat from the stage was reduced from 27m to 15m to better the relationship between artists and audience members.

It is hoped that the extensive renovation work will highly improve the relationship between those on stage and those in the audience, as the original 1932 auditorium (designed by Elisabeth Scott) held more of a cinema than theatre feel, separating these two key players whereas the new design thrusts the audience into the thick of the action. Much care has been taken to ensure that the Royal Shakespeare Theatre retains many of its much-loved Art Deco and Victorian features. As a quirky recycling measure, the original teak flooring of the 1932 building now graces the new foyer spaces in the theatre's auditorium so that all visitors can ‘tread the boards’ that have provided a platform for acting greats Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier, Patrick Stewart and Kenneth Branagh.

The Bard is not the only British literary figure inspiring fresh works of art and architecture at the moment. Brontë Parsonage Museum is currently hosting an art installation by Su Blackwell entitled ‘Remnants’, which involves three-dimensional book-cut sculptures, taken from the pages of the haunting classic Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and addressing the themes of childhood, imagination and storytelling. ‘Remnants’ runs throughout the historic rooms of Haworth Parsonage – the family home of the Brontës – until Sunday 28th November.

More directly inspired by literature is a simple public light installation by Spanish designers Luzinterruptus. In this thought-provoking display, a plethora of 800 illuminated texts were spread at random under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York with the ambition to inspire people to stop and read throughout their daily grind. Luzinterruptus explains: “We want literature to seize the streets and become the conqueror of public spaces, freely offering to those who walk by a space free of traffic which for a few hours of the night will succumb to the modest power of the written word.”

As technological advancement threatens to overpower the humble book, artists are clawing back the modest pleasures that come from the literary text. Long may it continue!

Sian Disson
News Editor

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