Shaw's Vision of a National Theatre: Reading the Cultural Politics of the Location of National Theatre in London (1909-1942)

By Michael Fountain


This paper considers Shaw’s favouring of a site in Kensington for the proposed location of the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre.  Situated in close proximity to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National History Museum, the Imperial College, as well as the extremely affluent neighbourhoods of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, the Kensington site offered what amounted to a strongly conservative tone.  The geographic location for any kind of theatre is symbolically significant; however, in the case of the National Theatre it was especially heightened.  I argue that Kensington, and specifically Shaw’s relation to it, reflected the latent cultural politics surrounding the National Theatre project as what appeared to be involved in its selection was a profound expression of cultural conservatism. It was then ideologically necessary for the National Theatre to be clustered with such edifices that marked Britain’s perceived superior status within London’s “urban text.” The implications that the National Theatre was not built in Kensington but rather in the South Bank, needs to be discussed.