The National Theatre, situated on London’s Southbank, showcases some of the world’s best theatre. Their backstage tour reveals how works are brought to life on stage; giving an enriching and interesting insight into backstage workings.
The tour began with a short history of the theatre, including choice of location and the sometimes controversial design of its building. We were then shown into the Olivier Theatre – named after the theatre’s first artistic director, Lawrence Olivier – which is the National’s largest theatre space with a capacity of over 1,000 seats. Here, the tour guide gave us interesting facts about the Olivier Theatre including how it has been cleverly designed to ensure that the audience’s focus is on the stage, why the seats are arranged as they are and the workings of the drum revolve that is an impressive and integral part to so many of the plays staged in this theatre. As she talked, on stage the set for their new production London Road was being fitted, adding another fascinating element to the tour.
We then had the opportunity to spend a short time admiring and handling some of the props…
We then moved into the Lyttelton Theatre where we were again given insights into the workings of the National’s second biggest and more conventional theatre space. Backstage at the Lyttelton, the set for The Last of the Haussman’s was being stored. What struck me was the attention to detail and intricacies of the set which even those audience members in the front rows would never see: showing the depth of work put into each production. Following this, we visited the workshops where all their sets, including those for touring and global productions of the National’s shows, are constructed. We then had the opportunity to spend a short time admiring and handling some of the props used in recent productions, which marked the end of the 1 ¼ hour tour.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to view the Cottesloe Theatre, the National’s smallest theatre space, as the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was being rehearsed, complete with a puppy and rat in the rehearsal room!
… it’s a fascinating insight into how the mesmerising sets, theatres and plays have been created.
The tour was informative, polished and interesting, if a little scripted. However, as the National is a working theatre – all work for every production is undertaken within its walls – each tour will be different. Throughout the tour there was constant activity – from sets being constructed and moved on stage to actors rehearsing – which enriched the tour experience and reinforced the idea that the National is an exciting hub of London’s theatre. It is a great experience for anyone, regardless of whether you’ve seen productions at the National Theatre; it’s a fascinating insight into how the mesmerising sets, theatres and plays have been created.
More importantly, the tour acted as a reminder that it isn’t only the performance on stage each night, but the work behind the scenes that makes the theatre even more special.