NT Unveils Lyttelton Transformation PlansDate: 8 August 2001
As the National moves closer to celebrating its 25-year heritage on the South Bank, it announced at a press conference today a radical new plan to attract younger audiences to the country's premier theatrical institution. The "Transformation" plans will see a £1.5 million conversion of the NT's most conventional theatre space, the 900-seat Lyttelton, into two smaller spaces for new writing and more experimental work.
The "Transformation" season will take place for six months between May and September 2002 during which time some 14 major new pieces of work will be staged in rapid, non-repertory succession. The new performing spaces will be carved out of the existing Lyttelton Theatre, now a traditional proscenium arch theatre, and the Lyttelton foyer, currently used as an exhibition space. The former will become the Lyttelton Arena, a 650-seat in-the-round space in which all audience members will be required literally to cross the stage to reach their seats and in which none will be more than 25 feet from the actors themselves. The latter, called the Lyttelton Loft, will be an even more intimate affair, with a mere 100 seats.
Both spaces are firmly aimed at attracting the under-30s, both in terms of younger, non-conventional theatre audiences as well as young, up and coming writers and directors who have shied away from producing work for the National's larger theatres. The two Lyttelton stages will share a bar area that is also unashamedly aimed at the younger audience. It will feature an Internet café and a barbecue area as well as cheaper beer and wine and a late drinking license. The Lyttelton productions will also have much cheaper tickets, ranging from £8 to £18 (compared to £10 to £32 for normal NT productions).
To further signal the importance of luring this new contingent to the National complex, the NT has drafted in outside support from Mick Gordon, the former artistic director of London's Gate Theatre, which is renowned for its new work. Gordon is currently keeping programming specifics for the Transformation season under wraps although he has said it will have "a decidedly ageist policy".
Commenting on the plans in the face of the 25-year South Bank anniversary, NT artistic director Trevor Nunn (pictured) said, "The National has been most emphatically defined by its building - we have been challenged and sometimes trapped by it." Since taking over the NT directorship in 1997, Nunn has introduced a number of changes to increase accessibility, including the more subdued re-configuration of the NT's largest space, the Olivier. However, over the years, he says more and more writers and directors have requested that their works be staged in the 400-seat Cottesloe rather than either the Olivier or the Lyttelton. The intention is that the Lyttelton project will give more of these artists an entry point to the National that didn't previously exist.
Nevertheless, Nunn was at pains to point out that it was an experiment - and only a temporary transformation. At the end of the six months, the Lyttelton will be returned to its current proscenium arch form to house a revival of one of the 20th century's greatest stage classics - Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Glenn Close. That said, assuming the Transformation season does work, the scaled-down spaces can be re-installed for future seasons of new work.
- by Terri Paddock