In November 2004, the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned Ian Ritchie Architects to design a one-thousand-seat theatre. It was to be sited in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, and to be ready to stage its first performance less than twenty months later for the start of the Complete Works Festival. As well as this phenomenally challenging schedule, the theatre was to be a vehicle for research into the design of a large thrust-stage auditorium – research that would inform the transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – and it was to be temporary, a transitional building that could be unbolted and recycled, and cost less than £6 million.
Off-site fabrication began in March 2005 and site construction, on what had been a car park, in June. Acoustics, sightlines and ventilation were refined as the construction of the steel box and auditorium proceeded. The fit-out was accomplished in four months.
The Courtyard Theatre opened on 7 July 2006, on within time and within budget.
A Cor-Ten steel box envelops a structurally independent auditorium, a thrilling space that successfully combines scale and intimacy – between actors and audience, and within the audience itself. The Other Place has been transformed to provide a front-of-house with its own dramatic impact, and back-of-house facilities. The reactions of actors, audiences and critics have been universally positive: the RSC’s new Courtyard Theatre is both charismatic and innovative. This book tells the story of the Courtyard Theatre, from the roots of the design in the history of thrust stages to the details of collaboration and leadership that delivered what Michael Billington in The Guardian called ‘a bit of a smasher’. It received a RIBA National Award in 2007.