What You Need To Know About The National Theatre:
The National Theatre is one of Britain’s leading theatres, producing more than 20 new shows each year. It is made up of three theatres: the Olivier Theatre, the Lyttelton Theatre and the Dorfman Theatre. The iconic building also incorporates educational and exhibition spaces, and boasts multiple dining and drinks areas.
The National Theatre started life in 1963, with the legendary actor and founder Laurence Olivier at the helm. For 13 years the company performed at The Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo, before transferring to its current iconic building on the Southbank, which opened in 1976. The organisation became the Royal National Theatre in 1988, but the full name is rarely used.
The National Theatre’s programme spans from classic plays and new writing to epic Shakespearean productions and dazzling musicals. Its productions and co-productions regularly tour the UK and have often transferred to Broadway.
The theatre’s global reputation attracts the world’s best performers, directors and creatives to work on its shows, so you’re in for a treat if you pay a visit to this theatre.
The National Theatre’s Three Venues:
This is the National Theatre’s biggest theatre. Designed with a fan-shaped auditorium, the Olivier Theatre seats 1,150 people. The theatre contains two levels of raked seating and the choice of layout creates a more intimate feeling than in most other large theatres. Its lack of pillars and other obstacles means you’re near guaranteed an excellent view of the stage from wherever you’re sitting.
One of the best features of the Olivier Theatre is its famous drum revolve, which allows the set to turn 360° and to either descend or rise from below the floor. It was designed in the 1970s and has been a key part of productions for ambitious directors and set designers ever since. The five-storey drum fills eight metres of space beneath the stage, but can be controlled by just a single staff member and a 1970s computer!
The theatre is named after the great Olivier himself and is modelled on a theatre in Epidaurus, a small city in Ancient Greece.
The Lyttelton Theatre is a classic proscenium arch theatre but, like the Olivier Theatre, has no pillars, circle rails or other elements that might block the audience’s view of the stage. The proscenium itself is adjustable and can be made open ended, have a forestage or orchestra pit added. It seats 890 and is named after Oliver Lyttelton, Viscount Chandos, the first chairman of the National Theatre.
The Dorfman Theatre seats just 400, making it the National Theatre’s smallest theatre. This allows for a high degree of flexibility with the seating arrangement, including the option to fold them all away altogether! Previously named the Cottesloe Theatre, the space was reopened in 2014 as the Dorfman Theatre; named after Lloyd Dorfman, philanthropist and chairman of the Travelex Group.
The current Artistic Director is Rufus Norris.
Top Facts About The National Theatre:
- Part of the Olivier Theatre’s astonishing machinery involves a 100-foot lift that actors can ascend from the basement to the Olivier Theatre stage in.
- The National Theatre began its ground-breaking NT Live broadcasts in 2009, which allow cinemagoers across the country the chance to see plays beamed back in real time without making the trip to the Southbank.
- Between 2013 and 2016, the National Theatre was home to the National Theatre’s Temporary Theatre (also known as The Shed), a bright red building that housed a 225 seat-theatre that focused on staging new works.
- Prince Charles famously voiced his objection to the controversial architecture of the National Theatre in 1998, describing it as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”.
Key Information About The National Theatre:
Tube: You can easily travel to and from the National Theatre via Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee and Waterloo & City lines) tube, which is just over 10 minutes’ walk from the venue. Alternatively use Embankment (Northern, Bakerloo, District and Circle lines). You can then walk across the Hungerford Bridge, which only takes 10 minutes too.
Train: Waterloo, Waterloo East and Charing Cross stations are all within walking distance of the National Theatre.
Bus: Bus numbers 1, 4, 26, 59, 68, 76, 139, 168, 171, 172, 176, 188, 243, 341, 521, X68 and RV1 all travel across Waterloo Bridge. 77, 45, 63, 211, 507 and 100 also all stop within walking distance. Please visit the Transport for London website to plan your journey in more detail.
You can use the National Theatre’s own car park, which is located in the basement. It is open 6am to midnight Monday to Friday and 7am to midnight on weekends. Find the entrance on the south west corner on Upper Ground by Theatre Avenue (between the National Theatre and the BFI).
You can park for free if you are a Blue Badge holder either dining or seeing a performance at the National Theatre. There are spaces reserved in the car park by the lifts for use by people with disabilities, or you are welcome to park anywhere in the car park. You can also receive free parking by taking your Blue Badge, theatre ticket and car park ticket to any of the box office areas in the foyer. There is a drop off point at the top of Theatre Avenue (the road between the NT and BFI).
The National Theatre runs its own Access List. This allows visitors to book tickets at the Disabled concession rate and to ‘Select your own seat’ on certain performances. Click here to find out more and to join.
The building is wheelchair accessible via ramps and lifts. For information on individual theatres, see below:
You’ll find an accessible entrance at the front of the building via a ramp in front of the Kitchen restaurant. Access to the theatre is via any of the four lifts in the foyer. There are five wheelchair spaces available in the Stalls Level 2. There is also flat access to Row G at the back of the Circle.
The accessible entrance is at the front of the building via a ramp in front of the Kitchen restaurant. There are four wheelchair spaces available in the Stalls, all of which can be accessed from the ground floor. There is also flat access to seating at the back of the Stalls.
The Dorfman Theatre is on Stage Door Avenue, which is situated opposite the IBM building. There is lift access to the Dorfman Theatre, however the seating arrangements in the theatre changes for each production. To discuss accessibility requirements for a specific show, please contact the box office.
Seats are available at the front of the each auditorium for visual impaired visitors. To book these please contact the box office directly.
All areas of the National Theatre:
Working dogs are welcome in all areas of the theatre. You can either arrange for an aisle seat or for a member of staff to dog-sit. Please make sure to arrange either option with the box office in advance of your trip.
The National Theatres’s three theatres are fitted with an Infra-red Audio System. Headsets and neck loops can be collected from the box office for use with the system.
You can pick up a free cast lists in large print and braille from the box office for every performance.
Accessible toilets are located throughout the building, including several positioned on the same levels as the wheelchair spaces in the theatres.
To discuss all access requirements and to book tickets please phone the box office on 020 7452 3000 or email [email protected].
The National Theatre offers a Disabled concessionary rate. Sign up to their Access List to make sure you receive it.
The National Theatre schedules Audio-described, Captioned, Relaxed and BSL-interpreted performances, as well as touch tours. To find out more and to book tickets, please contact the box office.
Here’s a quick run through of the choices on offer at the National Theatre:
Its flagship restaurant is the House Restaurant. The contemporary restaurant offers fixed price menus, plus a main menu centred on classic British dishes with a modern twist. Inspired by some of its best-loved shows, the theatre has concocted a special menu with a some distinctly theatrical additions. It also offer themed menus to complement certain shows. For examples, Angels In America audiences could get into the spirit of the show with Big Apple Bellinis with a bagel on the side.
If you’re looking for something more relaxed, try the Terrace Restaurant. It offers striking views of the London skyline, with a menu comprising sharing platters and small plates.
The Green Room restaurant located behind the building is a joint enterprise with local social enterprise Coin Street Community Builders. It’s a relaxed diner with a garden area and an eco-friendly focus.
For a casual bite, there is also the Kitchen Café on the ground floor of the National. It’s open all day and provides cakes, sandwiches, salads and other snacks, as well as hot and cold drinks.
For a quick pre-show pint, head to the Understudy, the National Theatre’s craft beer bar. Along with a range of beers from London breweries and further afield, the Understudy has a full snacks menu where you can choose from retro candy or pretzels.
If you’re just in need of caffeine, head to the Espresso bar on the ground floor. Along with coffees, teas and soft drinks, the bar also sells a range of seasonal baked goods.
There are also additional bar areas located outside each of the theatres for pre-show and interval drinks. In short, you’re unlikely to go hungry or thirsty at this theatre.