RSC Swan Theatre

Stratford-upon-Avon, UK433 seats

Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare, is also home to the three world-famous theatres of the Royal Shakespeare Company: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan Theatre and The Other Place. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre are co-located right by the River Avon, the third generation of theatres on the site. The Swan stages plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and modern playwrights alike. Its interior is instantly recognisable, with its courtyard style layout evoking the boisterous auditoriums of the Shakespearian era.

The replacement of the seating comes as part of a larger project which also includes structural repairs and new audiovisual infrastructure. Following consultation with the theatre’s front of house team, the refurbishment sees the Swan equipped with comfortable individual seats for the first time. Much as an intimate atmosphere can add to a theatrical experience, The Swan’s benches sometimes brought the audience a little too close, allowing just 450mm for each theatre-goer.

“We also wanted to make the auditorium more accessible,” explains Head of Technical Resources, Ben Ranner. “We now have 8 wheelchair spaces on the ground floor and one on the balcony, plus we have some wider seats on the balcony for those with limited mobility. But also, the fact that all the seats are wider and most have armrests makes the auditorium more accessible for everyone.  You can feel that you have your own warm, enveloping, comfortable space while still enjoying intimacy with the stage.”

The Swan is a complex space, awash with levels and angles, but it also needs to be adaptable. The stalls area houses the venue’s famous thrust stage, as well as removable tiering, faceted to fit the shape of the auditorium. For this area, Audience Systems provided “Matrix” seats in groups, which simply slot into sockets on the tiers, and can be quickly removed without tools. This is a big advantage when it comes to setting up for a production, explains Ben Ranner. “The Swan Theatre was designed with the idea of never having big sets or props, but from the very first show, there were big sets and props! So getting the sets in has always been challenging. However, the Matrix seating on removable tiering gives us tremendous flexibility. At every ‘get in’, we can take it all out to give good access to the stage. We’ll be making more changes to the theatre in the next few years, and we now have the scope to do that much more simply.”

Up on the balconies, fixed seats were carefully engineered to fit the spaces. There are also sections of removable seating throughout the auditorium to accommodate wheelchairs or camera positions. The seats themselves are designed to complement the character of the auditorium, with a popping theatrical red fabric contrasting with timber highlights on the backrest and armrests.

“I had personally worked with Audience Systems for many years in previous roles, most recently at The O2 Arena,” explains Ben. “We were very keen to have a UK manufacturer, and we liked the robust and simple product which Audience Systems could provide. I also knew that Audience Systems’ products were good value for money – a good quality product at a good price. The simplicity of the design is very useful for maintenance. We don’t have to carry a vast quantity of spares – we only carry around 5%. And we know that if anything does go wrong, Audience Systems are just up the road.

“We’ve already had a donor event and people were thrilled to come in and see how respectful we have been to the space, with comfort and warmth and colours in keeping with the rest of the building. Plus, the seats offer a degree of comfort even higher than I expected, with a posture that sits you in a slightly reclined but well supported position.

“Working with the team, from Emily and Gary in sales to the drawing office to delivery went very smoothly. The experience has been a real pleasure from start to finish, and we really hope to continue the relationship into the future."

For more information about the RSC and the Swan Theatre: 

Photos courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company