The Bridge Theatre

Russ Kane

The Bridge Theatre ©Philip Vile/ Haworth Tompkins

“...What’s this... the seats are... comfortable? In a London theatre! You can actually move your legs without kicking the person in front of you. “

London is famed for its theatrical tradition. New York City may have Broadway, arguably the world’s centre for glitzy musicals, but London is the global centre for theatre. To perform on stage in London is a Very Big Deal. However, as much I love attending an engaging play and watching the finest actors on the planet ply their craft, the London theatrical experience, how can I put this delicately, sucks. Let me immediately cast aside the price of the tickets (bonkers), getting there (a pain) and concentrate on My Big Beef with London theatres – they’re freaking uncomfortable, the bars are a joke and the loos are out of the Victorian era. There, I’ve said it. Get over it. It’s true. Yes, many are beautifully, intricately ornate but so was a Model T Ford and I don’t want to sit in one of those for hours, either.

The stage at the Bridge Theatre ©Philip Vile/ Haworth Tompkins

Which was why I was overjoyed, yet had trepidations, when I read that a brand-new theatre, catchily called ‘The Bridge Theatre’ (because it’s right next to Tower Bridge) was going to be built at a rumoured cost of £12 million. It was developed by Nick Starr and Nicholas Hytner as the home of the London Theatre Company. So far so good. But even better was that this was going to be built right on my doorstep. I mean, how brilliant was this – I could jump on the bus and in 12 minutes I would be there. To be fair, they didn’t consult me on its location, but some things in life just work out.

Keen to support this new venture, we went along to a production as soon as the doors were opened in October 2017. Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? No? Don’t fret, you’ve probably saved yourself a shedload of aggravation. But as I walked along the South Bank and saw the bold, bright red sign announcing ‘Bridge Theatre’ I was smitten. Walking into the stunning foyer I knew this was a life-long relationship. I had found The One. Me and The Bridge forever.

The Bridge is the first wholly new theatre of scale to be added to London’s commercial theatre sector in 80 years and was designed by Steve Tompkins and Roger Watts of Haworth Tompkins Architects (winner of the 2014 Stirling Prize). What the architects and interior designers have accomplished here is brilliant. They have retained the very best traditions of London Theatre, chucked out all that was wrong, outdated, outmoded and replaced it with Stuff That Really Works. Take the foyer – it’s massive, yet intimate, lit by 500 bespoke copper light fittings.

The foyer of the Bridge Theatre ©Philip Vile/ Haworth Tompkins

The bar looks like you could land a Boeing Dreamliner on it, so cheerio to standing in a queue for the entire interval so that you can buy an overpriced G&T, and say hello to getting served el pronto. May I also mention that somehow, The Bridge Theatre hired the friendliest, most helpful, most charming staff in London. And the food! (Yes, I’ll get on to the actual theatre in a moment, just hang on). It’s fresh. It’s delicious. Don’t like the production – who cares, the made-on-the-premises Cheese Twists are sensational. Try them, you’ll thank me.

Bespoke copper light fittings in the foyer at the Bridge Theatre ©Philip Vile/ Haworth Tompkins

The entrances and exits into the auditorium are designed to move the 900-capacity audience without pushing, shoving or queuing – it feels so relaxed and comfortable. Inside, the use of the space puts The Tardis to shame. Yes, 900+ seats but instantly it feels intimate, warm and welcoming. There are no ‘bad seats’. No infuriating pillars to block your view of the stage. What’s this… the seats are… comfortable? In a London theatre! You can actually move your legs without kicking the person in front of you. I’ve attended many plays, talks, concerts here and what stands out are the perfect acoustics, the extraordinary flexible versatility of how the stage can be arranged to perfectly suit the production and how the entire package makes you feel ‘included’ – generating a wonderful, conducive atmosphere in which to relish whatever is being performed. Somehow The Bridge Theatre creates a magical combination between the audience, the performers, the architecture, the attention-to-detail interior design, the ambiance, the location, the stunning view… it all just works perfectly. The building turns going to the theatre into An Event – something to savour, an evening that lingers warmly in the memory.

So, bravo to those who were brave enough to even consider creating this wonderful, magical space and long may The Bridge offer a world-class venue in one of the most iconic settings on the planet. You might rightly say that ‘this production is a triumph’.

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