Tour of a brutalist icon - London Festival of Architecture

Tour of a brutalist icon

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Last Sunday I went to meet Alison Rae, Head of Tours and Visiting of National Theatre and our amazing tour guide for the morning. We had agreed to meet at the Southbank entrance of the theatre where it wasn’t hard to spot the group as Alison was carrying a bright pink LFA bag and the nice couple next to her were wearing the badges. As a small group, we introduced ourselves (it was me and an Australian Parisian couple with their lovely daughter) and started the tour. It was 10am in the morning meaning the theatre was not as busy as in the evenings but the cafe area was still buzzing as usual.

We started the tour with Alison from the permanent exhibition upstairs to take a look at the story behind how the architect Denys Lasdun was commissioned, what were the initial plans for the site and how one of the best examples of brutalist architecture came to life – although Alison said Danys never wanted to be called brutalist architect, he considered himself as purist. After covering the history of the site and the National Theatre itself, we went downstairs to see the map of the new refurbishment of the building which was completed by the Stirling Prize winning architects Haworth Tompkins in 2015. I am very familiar with the building but seeing the small traces through unknown background stories was a whole new experience.

As we headed off to see the stages, I asked if the National Theatre is still truly considered one of the most hated buildings in the country (as told on all the Thames tour boat tours). Alison said it is an old script which the tour guides never thought of changing for years.

A unique experience was entering the Olivier Circle to see the stage empty with the decor of the last scene of Common, the current production.

Our next stop was the unseen backstage where all the decors are restored and the stage sets for each production are designed and made. We talked through the future shows planned, including backstage scenes from Pinocchio – the production taking place this coming Christmas’. Without giving any spoilers, I recommend everyone book tickets early enough. It’s going to be a great one!

We went back to the Southbank entrance and said goodbye to each other. It was a nice afternoon, so I decided to take a long walk near the riverside and enjoy the generous sunshine!

Thank you so much once again to Alison Rae for the great tour of one my favourite buildings in London.

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