We were commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in November 2004 to design and deliver a new temporary 1,050 seat theatre in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, to be ready for the start of The Complete Works Festival in June 2006.
It was to be home to the RSC’s main ensemble while the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) was redeveloped and serve as a full-scale working prototype of a large thrust-stage auditorium design for the new RST.
Following planning permission in March 2005, construction commenced that summer and the Courtyard Theatre, as it became known, became operational in June 2006, on time and within a budget of £6 million.
It has external walls built of specially produced, folded ‘Corten A’ steel sheets, helping to create a sound-proof enclosure to meet the RSC’s high acoustic requirements. This recyclable material was chosen for its naturally weathering no-maintenance surface and warm red colour which blends with the brick and tile of the surrounding buildings. Columns were hidden within the profiled metal walls and connected to roof trusses carrying the suspended grid and bridges.
The interior of the walls and seat backs were of golden ply, and the red auditorium seating ‘floated’ inside while surrounding the thrust stage. The result is a radical new theatrical space of unique intimacy for actors and audience with no member of the audience more than 15m from the stage.
The Courtyard Theatre is an extension to the existing The Other Place – the RSC’s studio theatre – which was transformed to provide all front-of-house facilities.
It was used for eight years and 600+seat temporary replicas were erected for the RSC at London’s Roundhouse and at the Armoury in New York. Although dismantlable, the now iconic architecture remains and has been spatially transformed by Ian Ritchie Architects. It reopened in spring 2016 as The Other Place – the RSC’s ‘open’ creative hub for R&D with huge rehearsal rooms, costume store and a 200-seat studio theatre.
“It’s not often that architects exceed expectations – if only because most clients’ hopes are often unreasonably high. Our hopes were exactly that – and we got more, and better, than we bargained for, on time and on budget. Watching the first public performance from the furthest seat was proof that we had achieved our aims for our audience, in a splendid and charismatic setting.” Sir Christopher Bland, Chairman RSC