‘A unique record of a beloved theatre building and theatre company’

UK - Almost a decade in the making, containing stories never before told and pictures never before seen, and written with the insight of someone who was at the very heart of it, A Sense of Theatre, a remarkable new book providing a unique, eye-witness account of the birth and subsequent triumph of Britain’s National Theatre, launches to the public on 1 May 2024.

The book is the final work of the pioneering lighting designer, theatre consultant and author Richard Pilbrow, who, with his work on the book complete, sadly passed away at the end of last year.

This is history he was uniquely placed to record: in 1963 he was chosen by the National’s first director, Sir Laurence Olivier, to light the opening shows of the new National Theatre company at the Old Vic theatre. From there he quickly became involved in the planning of the new National Theatre building on the South Bank of London’s River Thames, eventually becoming the theatre consultant to the National and its architect, Denys Lasdun.

For the National, Pilbrow and his company Theatre Projects created technical innovations including a unique power flying system and the remarkable drum revolve stage in the larger Olivier Theatre, the pioneering Lightboard computerised lighting console, sophisticated new sound systems and much, much more. They also helped define the very shape of the building itself, and designed the smallest of the National’s three auditoria, the Cottesloe.

In A Sense of Theatre, Pilbrow describes the heady days in which the National company came to life. He investigates the background to the design of the National’s building and the three theatres it contains, including the full minutes of the meetings of the Building Committee – the panel of the leading theatre practitioners of the day assembled to help Lasdun understand theatre. He explains the technical solutions devised to achieve the ambition to present a repertoire of different shows in each theatre each day.

He explores how his approach to designing performance spaces was influenced by but evolved after his work on the National. And he charts the remarkable shows that have been created by the National in its three theatres over the years, including conversations with many people involved with making those shows. The result is a unique record of a beloved theatre building and theatre company.

A substantial work, lavishly illustrated, A Sense of Theatre’s publication has been supported by a number of leading industry companies and organisations: lead supporter the ABTT, plus Robe, Autograph, ETC, Steeldeck, Ambersphere, Howard Eaton Lighting Limited, 3LR, Martin, Pathway, Push The Button, TAIT, Unusual, White Light and, of course, Theatre Projects. Many individuals also gave their support to the book through a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, with those supporters the first to receive the book as it rolled off the presses in mid-April.

The book will become more widely available from 1 May, including through all good bookstores and online. Ordering options can be found at www.asenseoftheatre.com.

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