National Theater

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National Theater

National Theater
Article Image
National Theater
The National Theater
Artist Attributed to Man vyi
Year 2008
Location National Theater, London


The National Theater (or as it is officially named the Royal National Theater) was first thought of in 1847 through pamplets and newspaper articles wanting a national theatre that would preserve timeless classics as they were supposed to be performed. The goal was to have a theater available to all people, not just the elite. Officially, the Company opened in 1963 with a performance of Hamlet. [1] From 1963 till 1976, the company was based at the Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo. The building that the company is now in was designed by architects Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softley. The design greatly reflects the goal of making theater accessible to all. Instead of having an ornate theater, it was made primarily from concrete. People could feel comfortable walking into the theater in jeans as opposed to being expected to dress up. There was also no elaborate design to steal attention away from the performance. All of the theaters were designed for maximum visibility, capacity and to accommodate for last minute guests. The shows run on a repertory schedule, alternating shows every four days, to provide the most variety of shows in a given time in order to meet the interests of everyone. The National Theater is meant to be a theater for the people.

Theater Space

There are three theaters within the National Theater; the Olivier theatre, the Lyttelton theatre and the Dorfman theatre. Each theater is different in accords to the size, style and design of each theater. This is meant to accommodate attendance, set design and sound acoustics that can be different for each performance.

Olivier Theatre

The Olivier Theatre is named after Laurence Olivier who was the first director of the National Theatre and a British actor. It is the largest of the three theaters and it can accommodate 1,160 people in its fan-shaped auditorium.[1] The design of the theater was based on the architect's favorite style of stage, the traditional Greek amphitheater as seen at Epidaurus.[1] The Greeks had a thrust stage surrounded by seats 180 degrees around. However, the stage in Olivier Theater has seating spanning only 118 degrees.[1] This number comes from the average peripheral vision of a human. By standing in the commanding spot or anywhere behind it, an actor can see the entire audience without turning his/her head. This creates a more intimate experience for the audience. The stage has a five-story deep cylinder beneath it. This drum can spin, enabling a revolving set. Additionally, the two half circles comprising the face of the cylinder act as stage lifts. For the production of Treasure Island, this technology was used to reveal the cross section of a ship in act two. The fly above is 30 meters high and has the capacity to lift a double decker bus. The rigging is automated as opposed to a traditional system with pulleys and counterweights.

Lyttelton Theatre

According to the National Theater website, the Lyttelton Theatre was named after Oliver Lyttelton, who was the National Theatre's first chairman.[1] This theater has a proscenium style stage that is known for excellent acoustics and seats 890 people.[1] The seating arrangement is different than that of West End theaters. West End theaters have horseshoe shaped seating with royal boxes. That design came from the desire of the royalty to be seen. In modern day those boxes have some of the worst views. In order to give viewers the best experience, there are no royal boxes. It does, however, have day seats. These are seats in the balcony that are not sold until the day of a performance. This gives people who want to see a show but were unable to buy a ticket a chance to see it. The Lyttelton has an adjustable proscenium stage for different set design needs. It can be an open-ended stage or it can have a an orchestra pit. While stage left and behind the stage are used for storage for the set of the off show, the back storage space can be opened up to extend the stage.The fly in this theater is only 25 meters high and the rigging is primarily in the traditional style.

Dorfman Theatre

The Dorfman Theatre most adjustable Theater of of the National Theater stages. It is a flexible seating rectangular room that can house up to 450 people. [1] Because this theater is flexible with seating, each performance performed in the Dorfman Theatre has a different seating chart based on the stage design.[1]

Scenic & Props

About 60-80% of every show's set is created in house at the National Theater. The rest may be completed by them off site because it is too large, by a third party or rented. The theater has large workshops for every part of the process. This includes a metals shop and carpentry shop. After those two stages, talented artists paint the set and add other effects. Props makers must be skilled in multiple disciplines in order to create a prop. Some props are made from scratch. For others it is more economical or time effective to buy a product and modify it from there if necessary. Creating the set and props requires creativity. The set is created based off of a model that is converted into CAD files and technical drawings. From there it is up to the fabrication team to determine how to make the set. Often even less information is conveyed about a prop. They will simply be told to make something and then it is up to them to design and create it. A set and the props are not always what they appear to be. In order to save money, time and weight, materials may be used other than what the audience would suspect. The ornate molding around a door frame may be created by forming a mold and filling it with expanding foam. This foam is then painted gold to appear authentic. The illusion of a brick wall can be created convincingly with paint and perhaps another substance to add texturing onto a surface. In order to make these designs as they would appear in real life, many more costly materials and a significant amount of time would be required. All of this fabrication is typically completed in a six to eight week block. After a show the set goes into storage as it is under the copyright of designer. This set is eventually recycled as it can never be reused. Props go into storage for hire. The theater, other theaters or the general public can rent out these props for use.

Lighting & Projections

Each lighting set up is unique to a show.


Each theater within the National Theater has its own unique sound system. For the Olivier Theatre, the sound system is mostly used for sound effects, the mics can be used or not used since the stage is set up to be able to hear without microphones. The Lyttelton Theatre has the usual sound system needed for projection and sound affects.


After a show the costumes are put into storage for hire. The costumes can be rented back to the theater, to other theaters or to the public. This is one way the theater is able to earn back the money that was put into the performance.


Twelfth Night


The performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night opened in the Oliver Theatre on February 22, 2017. The director was Simon Godwin. Overall the performance was put on in the timeless way. Meaning that no time period could be pinned down for the show. The script was the original Shakespearean script with some interpretation and wording changed. The characters spoke in Shakespearean language with humorous twists to some of the words. An interesting decision that the creators did in this play was switching some of the character’s genders. For example, the Clown and Monsieur Malvolio were women. This gives the impression that sexual orientation equality was also a theme for this interpretation since Malvolio is supposed to have a affection towards Olivia. The main theme from this interpretation of Twelfth Night was that Shakespeare is timeless.

Dramatic Elements

The style of the play was a mix of Shakespearean period and modern 21st century. One scene had a 1950's vehicle when another scene had Shakespearean period costumes. The set design was a triangle staircase with rooms inside that created many scenes. The set could be a garden, a living room, a street alley, a club, and a church. The opportunities for the set were endless. Music throughout the play was mainly jazz with clarinets & saxophones but there was also some modern club music for the party/club scene.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 National Theatre. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2017, from

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