…and, by almighty Olivier, if the National Theatre is anything to go by then it’s in a damn good state. Twelve hours after ‘Live at the National Theatre‘ aired on BBC2, the hashtag #nt50 was still a worldwide trending topic on twitter. For theatre to be having that much of a reaction is pretty impressive and something we, as a nation, can be incredibly proud of. Something you’d want to shout from the roof of…oh, lets say…the National Theatre. The world was talking (tweeting) about the legacy of our National Theatre and still is – I know I can’t stop. So it would seem you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the 50th birthday celebrations. I’ll admit, despite not being trapped under a rock, I wasn’t sat on a sofa when it aired. I felt very left out and have had to (oh the burden) watch it a few times since to make up for my lack of dedication to our beautiful National Theatre. 

It may surprise you to learn that I only had my first trip to the National last year. At the end of ‘Live at the National Theatre’ in an extract from ‘Habit of Art’ they spoke about “the fear of this building” and I think I had always viewed the ominous Southbank block as a place I didn’t belong. I laugh at myself now when I spend a whole day there reading and treating it like I second home but at the time it felt inaccessible. The National Theatre looked like a concrete fortress (the Prince of Wales once described it as a nuclear power station) that didn’t hold anything for me. How wrong I was! If any of you currently feel this way about the National and are yet to go, I urge you to get an Entry Pass or Travelex ticket and join me in my never ending love affair with the place. 

My first experience* of the National Theatre was to see the 2012 revival of ‘London Road’ after hearing so much acclaim for a new musical. The reviews had described the piece as “groundbreaking” and the ground may as well have broken, swallowed me up, and I would have died happy. I don’t recall having ever seen musical theatre that had pushed so many boundaries of expectation and absolutely nailed it. Complex, clever and faultlessly performed. I think I could use that sentence to describe every National Theatre production I’ve seen since and over a year later I can’t keep away from the place. 

* I’ve lied. Technically I saw ‘War Horse’ at the New London Theatre years before. It’s a National Theatre work of course, but has escaped the Southbank concrete for some smaller concrete just beyond Covent Garden. I don’t count that though, I feel like your first proper Nash experience has to be in the beauteous building on the river. 

I’ve only experienced the National Theatre for one year of it’s incredible life and have seen some truly inspirational work. Multiply that by 50 and you have an incomprehensible legacy of talent, on stage and off, that deserves to be celebrated. Thankfully, they have been celebrating in style and, aside from lighting up the Thames with fireworks, they created ‘Live at the National Theatre’. If you are yet to have watched this glorious show, then watch it HERE

Here are some of my highlights (although it’s hard to choose highlights when the entire programme was perfection):

  • Dame Maggie Smith referring to Laurence Olivier as ‘Larry’ – a nickname I cheekily use when I’m meeting someone on the river and say “I’ll see you at Larry” aka the status of Olivier outside the Nash. 
  • Joan Plowright at the Old Vic. 
  • Dame Maggie in ‘Hay Fever’ in all her comic glory. 
  • Teenagers everywhere realising that by saying ‘YOLO’ all the time, they are in fact quoting Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Bedroom Farce’.
  • Clive Rowe in ‘Guys and Dolls’ – did he want to belt and higher and more consistently? Blimey. 
  • Angels in America broke me. It needs to be revived, with Scott and Cooper, soon please. 
  • The news that Christopher Eccleston was an usher at the National. 
  • The moment I realised that someone had the job of looking through the archives to choose extracts to show.

Dear National Theatre, I shotgun for the role of ‘Archive Searcher’ for the 2063 ‘100 years of the National Theatre’ celebrations. Thanks very much in advance. Rebecca Ridout

  • Send in the Clowns. Always. 
  • Jerry Springer: making it okay to swear if it’s sung ridiculously high since 2003.
  • History Boys, naturally. 
  • Adrian Lester reaching the same overwhelming emotional point performing an extract of ‘Othello’ as when he performed the whole play (as I had seen earlier this year). 
  • London Road. Seeing that stage filled with hanging baskets reminded me of how overwhelmed I was at that image just last year.

Finally, a main highlight for me was when Trevor Nunn spoke of how musical theatre is regarded as a form where “you can check in your brain at the cloakroom” and how that is not the case. He feels that the National Theatre has been very well served by covering the whole spectrum. Hear hear! In my one year experience I have seen the whole range of theatre that the National has to offer and I feel very well rounded because of it – there is something for everyone. It truly is a theatre for our nation and will continue to inspire from one generation to the next. Be sure to let me know what your highlights were and/or your first experience of the NT (on here or @beccaridout). Let’s keep talking about it and keep celebrating 50 fantastic years. Here’s to the next 50. Happy National-Theatre-going!

Image

Banging on the windows of the National at the half to mark the first night.

Image

What a tradition.

“but plays persistent. Plays, plays, plays…” – not lyrics this week. A quote from Alan Bennett’s ‘Habit of Art’ felt more appropriate – and it had me crying at the end of the stunning tribute to our National Theatre. 

– Rebecca Ridout