Royal Court, 2000

rebuilding a revolutionary theatre

The Royal Court, Europe’s most important centre for new writing but housed in an exquisite Victorian theatre, has always represented a delicate balance of continuity and risk. Faced with the challenge of a major expansion on a highly constrained urban site, the conceptual approach for this project was partly archaeological and partly invasive: uncovering, reframing, demolishing, extending and reconfiguring the historic architecture to maximise space and yet still generate an atmosphere of rich, deep theatricality.

The original Emden and Crewe auditorium, famous for its capacity to support both intimate and epic work, has been stripped back to bare structure and enriched with leather seats and deep warm colours. New technical infrastructure, flexible stagehouse and removeable seating all contribute to a far more effective and supple theatre space without the loss of the theatre’s ghosts. To provide updated technical areas and ventilation plant spaces, two entirely new levels of basement have been inserted beneath the listed auditorium.

The upstairs studio theatre, completely rebuilt to provide more height and flexibility, is reached by a staircase which gradually narrows and compresses on the journey from the street to the ‘attic’. Obsolete back of house and dressing room spaces have been replaced with a new, weathered steel-clad extension.

In a technically demanding series of moves, the public foyer areas have been doubled by constructing a new bar and restaurant space beneath the busy road outside, physically connecting the theatre to Sloane Square.

The connection between the foyers and the outside world has been reinforced by the twin devices of a more visually porous street facade and a vibrant vermilion mural by artist Antoni Malinowski on the drum wall of the Auditorium, signifying the live presence of the theatre from across the square. A palette of tactile interior materials - reclaimed red Jarrah timber, polished concrete, black steel, patinated bronze and Venetian plaster - was selected to weather over time alongside the original fabric of crumbling brickwork, mosaic floors, wrought iron and old plaster.

“The most intelligent, sensitive and triumphantly right rebuild I have come across anywhere in world theatre.” Sheridan Morley, The Spectator


English stage company

Collaborating artist

antoni malinowski

Main contractor


project manager

tony hudson

structural engineer

price & myers

services engineer

max fordham

quantity surveyor

davis langdon

theatre consultant

theatre projects

acoustic engineer

Paul Gillieron Acoustic Design

Cladding consultant

Montresor partnership

picture credits

andy chopping, valerie bennett

Behind the scenes
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