National Theatre celebrates 50 dramatic years

Peter O'Toole and Rosemary Harris as Hamlet and Ophelia, in Hamlet, directed by Lawrence Olivier in 1963. Credit: Angus McBean.

The National Theatre first opened its doors in 1963 at the Old Vic.

And 800 productions later it is celebrating 50 years of innovation and world class stage craft.

Laurence Olivier as Astrov in Uncle Vanya, a production he directed and starred in, back in 1964. Credit: Angus McBean.

Later today is exactly 50 years since its opening performance of Hamlet, starring Peter O'Toole and Rosemary Harris, directed by the National Theatre's first artistic director Laurence Olivier.

In opening the theatre with Hamlet, Olivier, widely recognised as the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time, started a deep and important link between the national performance centre and interpretations of the bard.

John Stride and Edward Petherbridge in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, directed by Tom Stoppard, 1967. Credit: Anthony Crickmay.

Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn, both former artistic directors at the Royal Shakespeare company, continued and deepened this tradition.

Later today, the Queen will visit the theatre as part of a month long programme of celebrations.

She will tour the vast multi-stage complex, watch some rehearsals and workshops, and will be given a peak backstage.

Simon Callow and Paul Schofield starring in Amadeuzs, directed by Peter Shaffer, 1979. Credit: Nobby Clarke

Next month some of the best actors will return to the famous boards to reprise some of their best loved roles.

Judi Dench, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith will all perform speeches from roles they have performed as part of a celebratory performance on November 2.

Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench in Anthony and Cleopatra, directed by Peter Hall, in 1987. Credit: John Haynes

The event, which will be live on BBC 2, will include scenes from its most iconic productions, including No Man's Land, the History Boys, and Pravda.

Guys and Dolls, 1982, revived 1996, directed by Richard Eyre. Cast included Imelda Stanton and Henry Goodman. Credit: John Haynes

The gala will see a cast of 100 perform live on stage, directed by Nicholas Hytner, the current artistic director.

Stephen Dillane in Tony Krushner's Angels in America, directed by Dedan Donnellan. Credit: John Haynes

Dame Judi Dench will perform an elegy from her starring role in Anthony and Cleopatra in 1987.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Helen Mirren and Ralph Fiennes will also feature in the performance.

 Jackman and Maureen Lipman star in Oklahoma, directed by Trevor Nunn in 1998.
Hugh Jackman and Maureen Lipman star in Oklahoma, directed by Trevor Nunn in 1998. Credit: Michael Le Poer Trench

Nicholas Hytner, who will be replaced by Rufus Norris from 2015, told The Evening Standard he is even hoping for a reunion of The History Boys.

James Corden, Dominic Cooper in The History Boys by Alan Bennett, 2004. Credit: Ivan Kyncl

He said:

I don’t think we will get them all because they are unbelievably busy and successful. But I know that James Corden and Dominic Cooper will move heaven and earth.

War Horse, directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris Credit: Simon Annand.

Sir Nicholas said the gala celebration will be bigger than originally billed, and include "properly and elaborately re-staged highlights from the many shows that have made an impact over 50 years. "

Stuff happens, by David Hare in 2004, directed by Nicholas Hytner, with Alex Jennings as George Bush. Credit: Ivan Kyncl.

Later next month a number of screening of some more recent productions will be screened in cinemas across the UK.