So the National Theatre is 50 years old today.
The National is an important theatre to me. All theatres are important so this one is maybe ‘special’. I’ve spent the last three years researching a production that took place there, I’ve written conference papers on performances there and all but absorbed the entire history in the process. And it’s also given me some great theatrical memories.
I first set foot in the National for, fittingly Caroline or Change Tony Kushner’s musical in 2006. As a latecomer to theatre in general (that’s for another blog) this was still fairly formative in my theatre going life. My time living in London was spent at several productions, platforms and other events. I even got to sit in on a rehearsal or two with my MA course. (seven years later and a crush on Rory Kinnear later, I curse my 22 year old self for not taking more mental notes in one of those…) And several years down the line, the National has woven itself into my theatre going life, rarely does a theatre trip to London not include a trip to the National, even if just to visit the bookshop.
A few years later I began to think about my PhD. I already knew the play (or one of them) would be Tony Kushner’s epic piece Angels in America. What began as a study of Kushner’s work slowly became a miniature history of the National Theatre, the more I researched, the more involved and the more in love with the history of the National I became. There is something about the interwoven repertory of three theatres, the variety and scope of all that is staged there. Added to that the physical spaces from the open vast Olivier to the traditional Lyttleton and the intimacy of the Cottesloe (now gone in its previous form and temporarily replaced by the Shed another brilliant use of space to stage a different kind of production) The thing about the National is you can see one thing, one particular kind of theatre in one space and see another entirely in the evening. Both producing classics (often with a twist) to completely new and innovative works there is always a balance, always something new and exciting.
There is a particular energy about the building too. It’s a rare building that feels so open and welcoming. I feel at ease wandering in, spending time. It feels like more than a theatre. And that’s good, for any arts institution but particualry one with National in the title.
My research and my experience there has given me such a passion for the work the National does. I’ve felt supported in my research by their archives and I feel like in my own little way I’m adding to the NT’s history, with my little brick, my little plot of time and productions I’ve written about. I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years brings, and hopefully brick by brick I might be building my way into that history too.