Address: South Bank, London SE1 9PX


Time Information:

Phone: 0207 452 3000 (Box Office)

Entry Price: Varies


400m from Waterloo

400m from Waterloo

The National Theatre is one of two public funded theatre companies in the UK and is located on the South Bank of the Thames. The idea had been first suggested in 1848, but it wasn’t until 1949 with the National Theatre Bill that it was implemented. The first production was in 1963 at the Old Vic theatre and saw Peter O’Toole starring in Hamlet. Since then they have produced over 600 plays with over 1,000 performances a year. The first director was Laurence Olivier and his statue stands outside the theatre today.

The Old Vic was never meant to be a permanent site and land opposite the V&A museum was considered, but it was decided in 1967 to build the National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames to the east of Waterloo Bridge. Denys Lasdun was the chosen architect and work began in 1969. It was felt to be a spiritual location with sights visible from St Pauls to Westminster Abbey.

The design incorporated the three separate theatres we see today. These are the Lyttleton theatre which opened in March 1976, having a capacity of 890 and being designed on the old proscenium arch theatres, the main auditorium Olivier theatre which was opened in October 1976 with a capacity of 1160 and based on the open stage Greek theatres, and the Cottesloe, based on the Tudor inn yards, opened in 1977 holding 400 people.

As fitting for an institute that toys with emotions, the design of the building had mixed reaction and was described by some as brutalist architecture, but despite this it is now a Grade II listed building. Writer Bernard Levin wrote at the time that ‘Britain now has the finest national theatre in the world’.

Annual turnover is over £50m and, beginning in 2009 with National Theatre Live, productions are now beamed to cinemas all over the world. Apart from buying tickets, the public are free to use the foyer area, can book backstage tours and see open air performances outside during summer evenings.

Its central riverside location sees it surrounded by some of the best London sites.

Click on the pics below for an enlarged view and use the arrow towards the right edge of each pic to go on to the next.