The RIBA award-winning Courtyard Theatre has become the ‘soul’ of new writing and rehearsal at the RSC. Designed in 2005 by Ian Ritchie Architects, it was used for eight years for RSC productions while the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was undergoing transformation.
The temporary 1050 seat £6m theatre was contained within a naturally weathering folded oxidised Corten A steel sheet envelope with an internal clear-span steel structure. Working with the RSC, new uses for the now iconic enclosure were introduced over five floors within the original envelope. It now houses a 200 seat adaptable studio theatre, two rehearsal rooms which are large enough for all RSC stages, the video department, and a new centralised home across three floors for the RSC’s costume department and costume archives.
One key design consideration was to open it up to the public – for performances, public tours including costume store, and the hosting of community and corporate events. The former ‘The Other Place’ in the adjacent brick building has been transformed into a hub for the RSC and public with box office, café-bar, exhibition, break-out spaces and toilets.
In addition to the creation of a new freestanding structure within the original structure and envelope, a translucent polycarbonate-lined illuminated double lift shaft provides access between ground and upper levels, and new windows and rooflights were cut into the envelope to provide natural light and highlight new dramatic spaces.
The studio theatre can be configured into many stage/audience formats and is provided with retractable terraced seating, with public entry at ground level, at mezzanine level or both. Lighting catwalks are provided between double trusses that support the costume stores above. Ventilation systems can be switched to ventilate the below-floor plenum (for flat floor events) or to ventilate the void below the extended terraced seating.
New services are largely exposed, which optimises available headroom, eases maintenance and adaptability, and contributes to the intentionally busy and slightly rough edged ‘back of house’ designed atmosphere of this vibrant collection of theatre spaces.
At a construction cost of £7m, it reopened as the new TOP in 2016.