Queen Opens National Theatre
“It stands as a tribute to all those who dreamt of it,” said the Queen when she opened the new South Bank complex housing The National Theatre Company , or at least at that time housing two of their three planned theatres, the Cottesloe was yet to be completed at that time. Her son and heir Prince Charles had a different view, more nightmare than dream, stating famously that it looked like a nuclear power station set beside the Thames .
The architect Sir Denys Lasdun carefully sited the complex to make the most of the background provided by St Paul’s , a smart move given his own building has all the external charm of a 1960s bus depot. Naturally it rained for the opening ceremony, not something that ever helps the already struggling aesthetic properties of concrete. But at least the inside of the building provided two and ultimately three great theatre spaces that have staged some magnificent productions over the years, an improvement over the facilities available in the company’s previous home at the Old Vic .
As with all too many such national projects the gestation period of the South Bank Complex was somewhat prolonged: the Queen laid a symbolic foundation stone in 1951, but work only really got underway in 1969 – the problem being funding rather than the builders waiting for a skip. Although the official opening was in October 1976, with the Queen going on to watch a performance of Goldoni’s Il Campiello afterwards, the Lyttleton Theatre had in fact seen its first production on March 16th that year, Hamlet with Albert Finney in the starring role, the actors being rather quicker off the mark than those who constructed their new home.
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