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Five great moments from the last 50 years of the National Theatre

Posted at 12:00 pm, October 22, 2013 in Arts & Entertainment
National Theatre © Philip Vile

The National Theatre is 50 years old – TODAY! So many incredible things have happened there in the last half a century but here are five moments that stood out for us…

1. The National Theatre finally opens
Staggeringly, the theatre took almost 30 years to build. It was formally created in 1949, started putting on plays – at the Old Vic – 50 years ago today, but only finally moved into its South Bank home in 1976. Nobody really seems to know why it took so long.

2. Shaffer v Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher gave artistic director Peter Hall a bollocking because she felt that the depiction of Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s 1979 smash ‘Amadeus’ was improbable, stating that ‘It was inconceivable that a man who wrote such exquisite and elegant music could be so foul mouthed.’ There was loads of historical evidence for Mozart’s potty mouth, but this didn’t bother the late Iron Lady.

3. Mary Whitehouse tries to sue
Professional moraliser Mary Whitehouse didn’t actually see ‘The Romans in Britain’, Howard Brenton’s dark 1980 allegorical drama about Britain’s ravages of Ireland. However, she did hear about a scene of male rape that occurred in it, and decided to bring a private prosecution against its director, Michael Bogdanov, on grounds of indecency. It didn’t work.

4. Daniel Day Lewis sees his dad’s ghost and freaks out
Probably more fun in the telling than if you were actually there (especially if your name is Daniel Day Lewis), the NT’s 1989 ‘Hamlet’ was thrown into jeopardy after lead Daniel Day Lewis freaked out – allegedly after seeing his father’s ghost – and quit both the production and stage acting. There is a bittersweet silver lining, as ‘Chariots of Fire’ star Ian Charleson, then dying of AIDS, got to fulfil a life’s ambition by stepping into the breach, where his performance was hugely acclaimed. He died the following year.

5. Joey at the Jubilee
Joey, aka the ‘main’ horse from ‘War Horse’ is the poster boy (poster horse?) of the critical and commercial golden age the NT has found itself in under the leadership of Nicholas Hytner, its outgoing artistic director. When he galloped along the roof of the NT as the Queen’s barge sailed past , it was a reminder of how ingrained both the show and theatre have become in our city. Another 50 years? No problem.

The NT will be formally celebrating its birthday with ‘NT: 50 Years on Stage’, a star-studded live megamix of its greatest hits to be performed on Saturday November 2 and screened live (or live-ish) on BBC 2.

To celebrate, we’ve also got all sort of fun stuff going on, INCLUDING:

Everything you always wanted to know about the National Theatre (but were afraid to ask)

Fifty years of the National Theatre in pictures

A review of ‘Arena – The National Theatre’

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