The National Theatre opened on the South Bank in London in 1976. The need to create a theatre to promote and support the best of British talent and expertise was not just a 20th century preoccupation. A national theatre had first been suggested in the 18th century by David Garrick whilst Henry Irving championed the idea in the 19th century. However, it was not until the early 20th century that fundraising for the project was initiated.
The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer (born 1926), directed by Trevor Nunn, Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, England, 2006
The Royal Hunt of the Sun was written by Peter Shaffer in 1964 and concerns the 16th-century conquest of the Incan empire in Peru by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro.
In the 2006 production at the National Theatre, Alun Armstrong appeared as Pizarro, with Paterson Joseph as Atahualpa, the last Inca king. Fray Vincente De Valverde, the first bishop of Cuzco who baptised Atahualpa, was played by Oliver Cotton.
Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe in Equus by Peter Shaffer (born 1926), directed by Thea Sharrock, Gielgud Theatre, London, England, 2007
Equus was first produced in 1973 while the National Theatre company was based at the Old Vic Theatre.
A psychiatrist, Dysart, investigates the case of a disturbed young man who has blinded six horses. In discovering the boy's problems Dysart confronts his own self doubts, and the play questions the value of a psychiatric cure in which intellect destroys passion. The production, directed by John Dexter, was intensely theatrical. A section of the audience sat at the rear of the stage, close to the action, which took place in an area likened to a boxing ring or a bull fight arena. Actors remained on stage, becoming witnesses to events as well as participants. Stylised metal masks and hooves turned actors into terrifying horses.
Shaffer created a memorable central role for the tormented psychiatrist, played in London by Alec McCowen and on Broadway by Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton.
Equus horse head, cane and wire covered in silver foil and leather, made by John Napier, London, England, 1973. Museum no. S.43:1-1993
Equus by Peter Shaffer (born 1926) was staged by the National Theatre company in 1973 at the Old Vic Theatre. It was directed by John Dexter.
It dealt with the question of why a boy blinded the horses which he cared for passionately. To cure him - make him 'normal' - will mean depriving him of an important part of himself and what makes him human. The action was set in a scene like a boxing ring, with the audience on two sides, almost as though the confrontation of the boy with his analyst was a fight to the death.
A problem for the designer John Napier was to evoke the horses without falling into anything that might remind audiences of a pantomime horse. The solution was to merely suggest the animals by these hauntingly beautiful outline horses' heads. The actors also wore high 'hoofs' made in a similar style. This simplicity reflected John Dexter's spare, pared-down production where the flick of a head was enough to suggest a horse's movement.
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (1868-1918), new version by Derek Mahon, directed by Howard Davies, National Theatre at the Olivier Theatre, London, England, 2004
Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet in the French Army, is renowned as a duelist, a gifted poet and a musician. However, his extremely large nose and his belief that he is ugly prevent him from expressing his love for his beautiful cousin Roxane. In the 2004 production the role of Cyrano de Bergerac was played by Stephen Rea with Claire Price as Roxane.
The History Boys by Alan Bennett (born 1934), directed by Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, London, England, 2004
'The History Boys' was premiered at the National Theatre in 2004. It won three Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Play, Best Actor (Richard Griffiths) and Best Direction (Nicholas Hytner). Alan Bennett also received the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre. The play subsequently went to Broadway in 2006 where it won six Tony Awards.
Set in the 1980s, history pupils at a grammar school in Sheffield are preparing for the Oxbridge entrance examinations with help from three teachers: Hector (Richard Griffiths), Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Lintott (Frances de la Tour), under the headmaster (Clive Merrison). The boys were played by Sam Anderson (Crowther), Samuel Barnett (Posner), Dominic Cooper (Dakin), James Corden (Timms), Jamie Parker (Scripps), Sacha Dhawan (Akthar), Russell Tovey (Rudge) and Andrew Knott (Lockwood).
Ian McKellen as Dr Tomas Stockman in An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), photograph by Graham Brandon, Royal National Theatre, London, England, 1997
Like Judi Dench, Ian McKellen has reached a mass audience through his superb performances on film, for instance as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.
McKellen was well received in repertory theatres soon after he graduated from Cambridge University in 1961. He made his breakthrough as a classical actor in 1969 playing Shakespeare's Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II for the touring Prospect Theatre Company. These drew rave reviews from many, including Irving Wardle of The Times: 'Beyond sheer animal magnetism, he also raises acting from a secondary thing, a reflection of life, into a primary position'.
In 1971 he co-founded, with Edward Petherbridge, the Actors' Company, a collective of actors who had equal say in the choosing and casting of plays and in the recruiting of directors. He went on to star at the RSC in an award-winning Macbeth. His roles since have been many and varied, but they have all benefited from his characteristic emotional power, meticulous detail, and intelligent subtlety.
Joe Duttine and Doreen Mantle in Tales from the Vienna Woods by Odon von Horvath (1901-1938), directed by Richard Jones, music by Johann Strauss, Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, London, England, 2004
This play was first performed in Berlin in 1931. It takes place in a community in the Vienna Woods. A young woman, Marianne (played by Nicola Walker), breaks off her engagement with Oskar the butcher (Darrell D'Silva) when she falls in love with Alfred (Joe Duttine).
Ken Campbell (1941-2008) in Theatre Stories, photographer Graham Brandon, Royal National Theatre, London, England, 1997
Actor, writer and director Ken Campbell is best known for his extraordinary one-man comedy shows such as The Furtive Nudist, Pigspurt and Jamais Vu.
Theatre Stories opened in 1997 at the Royal National Theatre, a mixture of new material and highlights from previous shows. Campbell's solo pieces started as pacy autobiographical rambles which spiralled off in all sorts of seemingly random and unconnected directions. Staging was simple with at most a backdrop and a few key props. As the story unfolded, all the diversions and odd pieces of associated information started to link up with each other in the most impossible fashion. None of the individual pieces of information stood out as invented, but the number of coincidences was absurdly funny and very satisfying. It soon became clear that far from being random, Campbell's stories were cleverly and tightly constructed.
The Mandate by Nikolai Erdman (1900-1970), Directed by Declan Donnellan, Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre, London, England, 2003
Oklahoma!, National Theatre, London, England, 1998
Oklahoma! brought together for the first time composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, who would go on to write nine smash hit musicals together. It opened on Broadway in 1943 with a cast of unknowns playing out the simple plot about which of two hopeful young men would take farm girl Laurey to the local dance. It seemed an insubstantial thing, which would disappear fairly quickly. However, it was a revolutionary musical in that for the first time the songs, lyrics and dances weren't simply interludes in the plot. They all contributed to moving the story or characterisations forward. Oklahoma! was also the first show to have an 'original cast' recording made, so starting another trend.
This photograph is from the National Theatre's 1998 production which won the Evening Standard Drama Award for Best Musical. In the centre are Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller and Hugh Jackman as Curly. Jackman, like the young Harold (later Howard) Keel, who played Curly in the 1947 London premiere of the show, has gone on to great success on the silver screen.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (born 1946), Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, London, England, 2004
Albert Finney as Hamlet, Royal National Theatre at the Old Vic Theatre, London, England, 1975
Hamlet is probably Shakespeare's most famous play, but it has suffered mixed popularity and mixed treatments over the generations. It was first performed by Shakespeare's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men in around 1600, and was evidently a success. In 1661 the play was revived in a cut down version with Thomas Betterton in the lead, and one viewer wrote that Hamlet was 'superlative to all other plays'. During the 18th century, it was regarded as a rather barbaric melodrama (Shakespeare's age was considered generally barbaric at that time).
David Garrick therefore missed out the famous graveyard scene when he staged it, and on occasion gave it a different ending, leaving far more of the characters alive at the end of the play. It continued to be performed (with its original ending) throughout the 19th century, and during the 20th there were over 20 film versions made (far more than any other of Shakespeare's plays).
This production from 1975 at the National Theatre, then still housed at the Old Vic, was directed by Peter Hall, and starred Albert Finney as Hamlet. It then transferred to the new National building where it opened in the Lyttleton Theatre. Finney was a stocky, untidy, decidedly unromantic Hamlet, in a straightforward full text production.
Judi Dench as Esme Alan and Samantha Bond as Amy Thomas in Amy's View by David Hare (born 1947), National Theatre, London, England, 1997
Michael Gambon as Falstaff in Henry IV by William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, London, England, 2005
South Pacific, Royal National Theatre, London, England, 2001
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's South Pacific brought new realism to the musical. Opening in New York in 1949, it was set in the South Pacific in World War II, only four years after the war had ended. It told of love, racial prejudice, cultural clashes and the frustrations of that war in a musical at once enchanting and thought provoking. Adapted from two short stories by James Michener, it chronicles two love affairs - Lt Joe Cable with a Polynesian girl, and Nurse Nellie Forbush with Emile de Becque, a French planter. The show was full of such memorable Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers as 'Some Enchanted Evening', 'There is Nothing Like a Dame', 'I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy' and the lovely 'Younger Than Springtime' which they had actually written for a completely different show, but had been cut.
This photograph is of Lauren Kennedy as Nellie Forbush in the National Theatre production in 2001, singing 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair'. When the show was first produced at Drury Lane in 1952, Nellie was played by Mary Martin and among the nurses was a young actress called June Whitfield.