Architectural ramblings around Stratford-upon-Avon: The Swan Theatre

Sandy Hickey

by Sandy Hickey

07/02/2022, in Main Blog | South Warwickshire Blog

The Swan Theatre is owned by The Royal Shakespeare Company and sits next to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, on the River Avon, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Opened in 1986, the famous Swan Theatre exists as a shell of the burned down Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, therefore has inevitably had many renovations and developments, still maintaining its Victorian gothic style throughout. Recently, it was refurbished as part of the Royal Shakespeare’s Company £112.8 million transformation process.

Designed by Architect Michael Reardon, the modified Swan Theatre exhibits some original Victorian gothic elements, whilst also functioning well for a 21st century audience – the space caters to everyone’s needs (performers, audiences, staff, etc.). For example, the introduction of a deep thrust stage in the auditorium creates a more intimate experience for those involved, and mirrors one of Shakespeare’s original playhouses effectively. The galleried seating with wooden balustrades adds to this closeness and also provides a good view of the stage for everybody. Furthermore, the seats were reupholstered and the auditorium was recarpeted, making the entire experience more comfortable.

Reardon also designed the exterior of the building to fit everyone’s demands, involving the heavily increased storage space and the new sharing of back of house facilities and public spaces.

The two theatres were further connected by a new colonnade, which provided a new entrance, improving accessibility. Colonnades are always fantastic structures for beautiful, public buildings as the columns, evenly spaced, evoke a sense of stability, structure and balance, whilst also physically supporting the building.

As well as nice looking, supportive structures like the colonnade, other structures have been added likely relating to tourism – there is a new rooftop restaurant, overlooking the beautiful town and river, along with a riverside cafe and terrace. These additions not only work economically, but also invite people from everywhere to honour Shakespeare and Stratford’s amazing buildings.

There are endless brilliant examples of how the architects worked with this mix of old and new, another example being the updated Swan Theatre roof. The roof is made of all modern materials, and they’re used very well as the roof is simply an updated version of the original design. By sticking to that design, the building is able to honour its own history whilst performing well as a functioning space. It follows its design very closely, utilising the original brickwork areas, but with a simplified all brick parapet, using vertical indented brickwork at regular intervals. The angular dormer windows are also an updated version of the original design, and a personal favourite!

Finally, the new 36m observation tower really encapsulates how the architects have taken an original structure (the water tower) and turned it into a modern usable space.

Written by Eliza Mulready-Carroll