London’s National Theatre is Planning a Huge £125 Million Upgrade

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A decade ago, the National Theatre was heavily redeveloped via the £85m NT Future project, which transformed the Cottesloe Theatre into the Dorfman, gave us the big scenic workshops you can see from street level, and vastly expanded its food and drink offering – notably giving us the beloved Understudy bar.

Now the nation’s flagship theatre is looking to crack on with an even bigger – or at least, more expensive – project. This one is named Stories Start Here and will cost a pretty £125m.

This one will less obviously add new stuff, and indeed its number one priority will be to ‘support urgent infrastructure updates to the National Theatre building’, which would seem to be largely linked to the giant Olivier theatre. Works will notably repair its scenery lift and iconic drum revolve (aka the spinning bit of the stage).

The idea is this will free up the NT’s formidable technical staff from constantly patching things up, allowing for the creation of a new National Theatre Skills Centre, which will train up over 5,000 technical staff a year to the benefit of British theatre as a whole.

The recent budget included £26.4m of government money specifically to help with the repairs, with the remaining almost £100m scheduled to be raised by private philanthropy, with £35m accrued so far.

Given a recent rash of local councils cutting their arts budgets to zero, the NT getting such a huge payout has raised a few eyebrows. The frustration is understandable, although it’s worth saying that the money would have been profoundly unlikely to have found its way to a different theatre if not granted to the NT, that the Skills Centre is intended to benefit the country as a whole, and that the Olivier is visited by people from across the country and beamed into even more cinemas and homes via NT Live and National Theatre at Home.

In any case, it’s good news for London and good news for fans of spinning stages – but hopefully good news for the country as a whole too.

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