National Theatre

Black and white photograph of a set model showing three thrones of different designs.
Set design for Ionesco’s play ‘Exit the King’ (1963) Photo: anon

‘Exit the King’ by Eugène Ionesco calls for three thrones in a derelict palace. The central throne in Jocelyn Herbert’s 1963 design appears to be modelled on the Coronation Chair (also known as King Edward’s Chair) in Westminster Abbey. The production was directed by George Devine at the Royal Court Theatre, with Alec Guinness playing King Bérenger.

Herbert’s design for the throne includes an elongated canopy decorated with a crown above the initial B for Bérenger. It seems to extend almost as high as the palace battlements behind. The throne does not resemble Coronation Chair as it is today in every detail: there’s no scrollwork on the top edge nor are there four gilt lions at the feet. The Coronation Chair has undergone many physical transformations since it was commissioned in 1300, with the lions first added in the early 16th century, and replaced in  1727. Herbert’s design is perhaps closer to the medieval version of the throne.

In 1990, Ian McKellen played Richard III at the National Theatre in a production directed by Richard Eyre and designed by Bob Crowley. The throne for this production was also modelled on the Coronation Chair.

This throne is now held by National Theatre Props Hire department. Since 1990, it been used in productions at the Donmar Theatre, the Almeida and the National Theatre. As Alice Rayner says in her book Ghosts: Death’s Double and the Phenomena of Theatre (2006), a prop store is ‘both an archive of past productions and a promise of possible ones’ (page 75).

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[Photo of Throne of Scone in National Theatre Props Hire – a placeholder image to be replaced by a better photo]