Strandlines

Building construction and demolition Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt and the National Theatre

In Matthew Arnold’s essay on ‘The French Theatre’ (1879) he urges on the movement to found a national theatre and fancifully imagines French comediens departing London and passing ‘along the Strand… I see a fugitive vision of delicate features under a shower of hair and a cloud of lace, and hear the voice of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt saying in its most caressing tones to the Londoners: ‘The theatre is irresistible, organize the theatre!’ This phrase was for decades to be the call to arms for the movement to found the National. In the many decades that passed before the NT emerged south of the river, first at the Old Vic and then in its own building on the South Bank, the Strand was posed a number of times as a potential site.

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