Planks And A Passion



Libby Purves follows the story of the Bridge, London's ambitious new-built theatre.

There's a saying that all you need for a theatre is 'two planks and a passion'. Across the country, Britain's theatrical heritage is both literary and architectural.

This autumn two men's enthusiasm brings London the biggest - some say the riskiest - new-built commercial theatre to open in the capital for over 50 years. Sir Nicholas Hytner ran the National Theatre for a dozen years, which saw many of its biggest triumphs including War Horse and One Man Two Guvnors. Together with his former chief executive and friend Nick Starr, he hatched the idea of a new unsubsidised house, free from the splendid but frustrating physical limits of the Victorian and Edwardian theatres of the West End. They would run an ambitious 900-seater in a new building in the shadow of Tower Bridge, and ensure that it could accommodate every shape and style of play and performance.

Over the last year Libby Purves, theatre critic and broadcaster, has followed the project from the original discussions to its opening next month with a new play by Richard Bean. It took her to a field in Norfolk where local builders and engineers made uniquely designed steel balconies. She visited a soundproof state-of-the-art studio where acoustician Paul Gillieron demonstrated how digital technology enabled the two Nicks, months ahead, to listen from every corner of their virtual space.

We hear from architect Steve Tompkins, winner of the Stirling Prize for the Liverpool Everyman, who reveals how the creation of a theatre has to combine engineering with emotional empathy, and explore the work in progress with its creators as they consider everything from dressing-room corridors to stage machinery, and discuss how even the foyer should help build a sense of occasion and community before the play even begins.

Presenter: Libby Purves
Producer: Paula McGinley.