‘All we need is a Walk of Fame!’ – the £4m rebirth of the National Youth Theatre

It nurtured the likes of Helen Mirren and Zawe Ashton but its headquarters were cramped and miserable. Now a revamp has added a touch of Broadway glamour to the famous institution A pink neon sign glows beneath a light-studded ceiling in the new entrance lobby of the National Youth Theatre, bringing a touch of Broadway glamour to the Holloway Road. Projecting out on to the pavement, occupying what was once a grotty car park on this busy London street, the new pavilion provides a suitably theatrical welcome to the revamped home for the institution – which had been all but invisible until now. “Even one of the local councillors didn’t know we were here,” says the NYT’s artistic director, Paul Roseby. “Our sign was hidden behind the trees, the front door was always closed and people were shuffled in through a side entrance into a miserable lift lobby. Everything about the place was unwelcoming.” After a £4m makeover, led by architects DSDHA, it’s now impossible to miss it. Clad in glossy green glazed bricks, oozing the jovial civic air of a Victorian pub, the new structure houses a community studio right on the street, with big shop windows giving passersby a glimpse of the action inside. “All we’re missing is a Hollywood-style Walk of Fame,” says Roseby. “One day I hope we’ll have stars in the pavement between here and the Odeon.” They would have enough names to pave the entire street. From Helen Mirren and Ben Kingsley to Orlando Bloom and Zawe Ashton, the NYT has provided a start for some of Britain’s biggest acting names. Founded in 1956, the charity moved to its current home in the 1980s, occupying a former mission hall built in 1872. Designed as a robust brick warehouse-cum-palazzo, fronted with Romanesque arched windows, the building served as a cinema and furniture store before being taken over by the educational charity. But it never had a proper theatre space to show off the young members’ talent, having been carved up into awkward rooms over the years. “We tried to put on some compromised productions before,” says Roseby, “but there were too many columns everywhere and we didn’t have a front of house area. It just felt embarrassing to bring people here.” Now he is brimming with pride as he shows off the revamped headquarters. In a process of strategic surgery, the architects have removed walls, swept away columns and inserted big picture windows, creating views between the different spaces in this newly minted “creative production house”. The budget has been used judiciously, spent on transforming the once column-choked ground floor into a new 200-seat workshop theatre and separate rehearsal space by inserting big steel trusses overhead, without erasing the rough and ready character of the building. The remodelled spaces retain their raw workshop feel, with pre-existing spray-painted breeze block walls and scuffed stage floors marked with the patina of performance. They are complemented by new rooms lined with plywood, polished concrete floors and exposed electrical ductwork, giving a theatrical back-of-house air. It’s a neutral backdrop that creates a place pregnant with the possibility of learning by doing. Continue reading...

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