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National Theatre

Leading London Theater Celebrates 50 Years

National Theatre logoThe National Theatre in London, England, reaches the climax of its yearlong 50th anniversary celebration with a multistar extravaganza being presented in the Olivier Theatre Nov. 1 and broadcast on BBC-2 and to cinemas around the world Nov. 2.
The National Theatre opened its doors in 1963 at the Old Vic under Laurence Olivier. Eight hundred productions later, the theater is marking its first half century with tributes to the many titles that played on and the stars that graced its stages in its West Bank complex.

National Theatre 50, directed by Nicholas Hytner, will jam many of those plays into one multimedia event. From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to The History Boys, from Antony and Cleopatra to Angels in America, from Guys and Dolls to London Road, the show will combine live performances with rare glimpses from the archives, featuring many of the most celebrated actors who have performed on the NT stages over the past five decades.

The cast includes Simon Russell Beale, Frances de la Tour, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Alex Jennings, Rory Kinnear, Adrian Lester, Anna Maxwell Martin, Andrew Scott, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, with more to be announced.

This month a new two-part BBC Arena documentary tells the story of the National from the appointment of Olivier as its first director and the great period of legendary productions at the Old Vic to the move to its controversial and now iconic building on the South Bank. Using rare footage of historic productions from the National's own archive, this film goes inside the workings of the theater and looks at recent hit productions including Othello, Frankenstein, and War Horse in the making. Contributors include Alan Bennett, James Corden, Judi Dench, Marianne Elliott, Peter Hall, Derek Jacobi, Adrian Lester, Ian McKellen, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and many more.

Also as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, National Theatre Live will present encore screenings of some of the National's most acclaimed recent productions at venues throughout the United Kingdom: Shakespeare's Hamlet on Oct. 22; Frankenstein by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley, from Oct. 31; and The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett on Nov. 7.

The exhibit Chris Arthur: Scenes from National Life in the Lyttleton Exhibition Area displays the photographs of the National's first company, including portraits of Anthony Hopkins, Maggie Smith, and Laurence Olivier. The exhibit runs through Nov. 10.

Also running through Nov. 10 is "The National Trail." Part-treasure hunt, part-history tour, the National Trail takes the audience on an interactive journey around the NT. Follow the trail and discover hidden glimpses into the rich history of the company. Solve all the clues and gain entry to the secret vault where many other treasures await. The National Trail has been made by metro-boulot-dodo, who create innovative, engaging and unexpected experiences which respond to their surroundings.

If you can't get to the London theater, you can join in the celebration online at The NT archive tells the story of the company, the productions, and the opening of the building. However, this history is incomplete without the experiences of the audiences, so the theater is asking for people's memories of the NT. When did they first go there? What was their favorite production? Stories can be told at

The theater is also offering an interactive timeline of the National Theatre's first 50 years available to download for iPad. Focusing on 50 seminal productions, it will include photography, exclusive video interviews, costume and set designs, audio features, and original program articles.

Other online exhibitions, curated by theater specialists using the riches of the NT Archive, are available online through the Google Cultural Institute. The first exhibition explores Greek theater at the NT, with a further five exhibits planned over the next two years. Go to

October 10, 2013

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