Democratic design is bad for theatres

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Democratic design is bad for theatres

Your account of Chris Bryant’s cultural plans, for more grit and less glitz (Report, 17 January), lifts the heart but he clouds the issue of seating prices: “It’s great to have a £10 ticket system but if all the £10 tickets are being sold to people who were buying them for £50 the week before, then that’s no great gain,” says Bryant.

We need to unravel the connection between seat prices and auditorium design. In the first theatre building boom, at the end of the 18th century, hundreds of playhouses were built with a top-to-bottom price ratio of eight to one. In the second, at the end of the 19th century, many more were built, including the West End theatres. All had galleries and boxes stretching down to the stage. They also had a greater capacity at the lower price levels than at the higher, a contrast to today, where there are very few cheap seats and they are all at the very back or the very front.

In the theatres of the postwar building boom, such as the Olivier and Lyttelton, all seats have roughly the same straight-on view. When the National Theatre building committee wondered whether their new theatres would be more intimate with side seats, architect Denys Lasdun replied: “I would need a written instruction to include bad seats.” ….

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