Thursday, 31 October 2013

NT @ 50 = 46

As you probably know, the National Theatre is celebrating being 50 years old at the moment. There are celebratory talks at the National, documentaries on TV and radio, features here and there and even (gosh) a celebratory website.  The physical reality of the National Theatre is a 1970s concrete 'brutalist' building - before then it was based in The Old Vic.

I've attended a few of the celebratory talks with people who've played at the theatre over the years such as Imelda Staunton and husband Jim Carter, Julie Walters, Simon Russell Beale and Brenda Blethyn as well as former director, Richard Eyre. They've taken place in the early evenings in the National theatres before they open for the evenings punters. They've been great fun and a great idea.

The National Theatre is actually three theatres in the same building. It's made up of the Olivier Theatre, the Lyttelton Theatre and the Cottesloe Theatre (currently being renovated and will open in 2014 with a new name). With three theatres on the go it has the opportunity of putting on so many shows each year. My favourite theatre is the Olivier and I can't believe that it will ever change its name.  How could it?

My personal archivist pointed out the other day that I've seen 46 National Theatre productions (some more than once) in the last 10 years (and will be seeing an additional two before the year is out). So here's the last ten years of the National and me...

2003: Henry V, Jumpers, His Girl Friday, Play Without Words

I remember Adrian Lester as Henry V in a modern day Iraq-type scenario for the great war play but I don't recall anything about 'Jumpers' at all. Zoe Wanamaker was great in 'His Girl Friday' and 'Play Without Words' was sublime. We saw 'Play' with Dezur from New York and I saw the same production again last year at Sadlers Wells as part of the Matthew Bourne 25th anniversary celebrations.

2004: Jerry Springer: The Opera, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Two big ensemble pieces with far more swearing in 'Jerry Springer' than is good for anyone and some good old fashioned smut in 'Forum'.

2005: The House Of Bernarda Alba, Once In A Lifetime

I still remember Penelope Wilton leading the cast of women in 'Bernarda Alba', wringing her hands at the front of the stage and putting on a brave face. I find it hard to believe it was that long ago.

2006: Pillars Of The Community, The Voysey Inheritance

Two Victorian plays in one year.

2007: The Rose Tattoo, Rafta Rafta, The Emperor Jones, War Horse

Zoe Wanamaker (again) in 'Rose Tattoo', the great Meera Syal in 'Rafta', the golden stage opening for 'Jones' and, of course, the brave horse that is Joey in 'War Horse' which I saw twice and, on one night, Steven Sondheim was a few rows in front of us, so who knows what might happen. Joey is so far from being a puppet, he is bravery personified.

2008: Much Ado About Nothing, Present Laughter, The Year Of Magical Thinking, August, Osage County

A great production of 'Much Ado' with Zoe Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale speechifying from a deep pond on the stage, a tour de force from Vanessa Redgrave in 'Magical Thinking' and the sprawling complexity of the family drama of 'Osage'.

2009: Every Good Boy Deserves A Favour, The Pitman Painters, Burnt By The Sun, All's Well That Ends Well, Time And The Conways, Nation

'The Pitman Painters' was a revelation with art growing out of the mines of Northumberland between the wars - not quite class warfare but some powerful message nonetheless. I loved the almost fairytale nature  of 'All's Well' and the clarity of vision and writing of 'The Conways'.

2010: London Assurance, The White Guard, After The Dance, Spring Storm, Hamlet, Fela!

This was a good year, with Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw playing off each other in a most disgraceful and humorous way - how dare they be that outrageously funny! Rory Kinnear's 'Hamlet' is the play that cemented him in my mind as an actor and 'Fela!' was, largely, the same as the Broadway production of the life of Fela Kuti and Afrobeat.

2011: Twelfth Night, Frankenstein, The Cherry Orchard, The Comedy Of Errors

'Twelfth Night' remains one of my least favourite productions for many reasons (read the blog if you want to know more) and 'Comedy' sticks in my mind for the failings of the moving (or, rather, non-moving) bits of the set. Not the most successful year other than the great production of 'Frankenstein' with it's revolving lead players.

2012: Travelling Light, She Stoops To Conquer, Timon Of Athens, The Last Of The Hausmanns, Scenes From An Execution

A pick'n'mix year, with 'Travelling' and 'Timon' both unsatisfactory and 'She Stoops' and 'Hausmanns' as highlights. I loved 'Hausmanns' with Julie Walters as the still-hippy mother to two grown up children with Rory Kinnear playing gay by standing on one leg.

2013: Hymn/Cocktail Sticks, Children Of The Sun, People, Othello, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, The Amen Corner, Edward II 

Two plays by Alan Bennett, the powerful and moving 'Amen Corner' and my disappointment with 'Othello' (with Adrian Lester from ten years earlier and Rory Kinnear again) and the terribly disappointing 'Edward II'.

Still, I have tickets to see two more National productions in November and December - 'Emil & The Detectives' and 'The Light Princess', the Tori Amos musical. I'm looking forward to seeing both.

So there you have it, my own tribute to the National Theatre.  I wonder what's on next year ... ?

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