The Courtyard boasts a spectacular 20 metre long, 4.5 meter high main house theatre with 150 seats and a stage space of 35sq meters alongside a 15 metre long studio theatre of 70 seats. There is also live music and gallery space and the Courtyard runs an exclusive bar with an Italian wine importer. The new complex also features 18 metre length rehearsal rooms with 4.5m ceiling height and buckets of natural light and also a host of smaller spaces. In addition to these features the Courtyard has paid special attention to the DDA guidelines and has installed full disabled access to all parts of the premises with disabled toilets, lifts and ramps to accommodate all members of society, including the elderly.
The new Courtyard Theatre has been created within a Grade II listed building, the former public library in Pitfield Street, Hoxton. Interestingly, this is only a few hundred metres from the site of the first purpose-built playhouses in England, the Theatre (1576) and the Curtain (1577), the latter still commemorated in the name of Curtain Road. These, like the later playhouses on the south bank of the Thames, were built just outside the City of London to avoid coming under the jurisdiction of the city fathers.
The Passmore Edwards Free Library, as it was originally known, was opened in 1897. Often described as the “Cornish Carnegie”, John Passmore Edwards was a Victorian politician and philanthropist, and life-long champion of the working classes; this magnificent library was one of over 70 major buildings across the country – including hospitals, libraries, schools and art galleries – which he helped to fund. The building became redundant when Hackney Council opened a new central library in Hoxton Street; it was used for a time by English National Opera for rehearsals and workshops, but has now been refurbished to provide (in addition to residential accommodation on the upper floors) perform-ance spaces and rehearsal studios for the Courtyard Theatre.
An exhibition about the history of the Library and the Pitfield Street area has been created by Michael Sargent (director of Centurion Theatre Company and a trustee of the Courtyard) and is displayed on the lower ground floor outside the Studio Theatre.