The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art has its headquarters fairly near where I work, and I’ve attended several student and other theatre productions over the last few years. I’ve been meaning to go on a tour for a while, and finally registered for one taking place on Saturday.
I attended a tour of the RADA Library a couple of years ago, as part of my professional development. That tour took place in the building on Chenies Street, where the library is located, along with the Club Theatre, RADA Studios and some rehearsal and technical rooms. This tour, however, covered the Gower Street/Malet Street building. I entered via the Gower Street entrance, flanked by a distinctive doorway. This sculpture was designed by Alan Durst, and the figures hold the masks of Tragedy and Comedy.
Our guide, Molly, was a friendly RADA graduate who gave us a brief introduction to the history of RADA. It was established in 1904, when the gloriously-named actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree started an Academy of Dramatic Art in the dome atop His (now Her) Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket. The Academy moved to Gower Street the following year and gained its Royal Charter in 1920.
Over the years RADA has trained a number of great British actors, including John Gielgud, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, Vivien Leigh, Ralph Fiennes, Mark Rylance… I could name more, but I’d be here all day. Several names are visible on the awards boards displayed throughout the building. Though much of the décor is modern, and the building has been constructed out of two back-to-back Georgian houses in a rather impressive and modern way, the signposts and directions on the wall have been painted to resemble Shakespearean theatrical scripts, which I really liked, and often, appropriate quotations are added.
We were taken to all three theatres in the building, in which the students perform (final year student productions are open to the general public). There’s the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, which can be a traditional proscenium arch, a theatre-in-the-round, or a thrust stage; the small, intimate Gielgud Theatre; and the atmospheric, versatile GBS (George Bernard Shaw) Theatre in the basement. During our exploration we learned about the rigorous audition process for RADA (four rounds, two of them workshops) and the three-year structure of the course. Only around 30 students are admitted each year, with a similar number admitted onto the technical courses.
Following this we were taken into a workshop where students on technical RADA courses build sets. We also got to see inside a sound studio and had a peek into the wardrobe department, where costumes are made.
I really enjoyed my tour of RADA. I can’t say that I’ve developed any desire to attend as a student, but I will continue to watch productions here with interest.