There is a big buzz going on at Southbank right now, and the closer you get, the bigger it gets.
There seems to be a charge in the air, as if there is something special going on there, and indeed there is. Right now you can see everyone who’s anyone in the theatre world here, all happy to share their experiences with this great institution. It’s hard to believe we didn’t always have a National Theatre, that this amazing, productive, exiting place did not exist 50 years ago. It was created by sheer force and chutzpah by a few very determined people, and kept going by the same energy.
We all know Sir Laurence Olivier as a great actor, but he is less praised for his tremendous work for this Theatre. So it was high time and only right that at last people got together and righted that wrong. So here we were, Nicholas Hytner, the current director who will be greatly missed when he leaves this year, talking to the likes of Michael Gambon, Geraldine McEwan, Ronald Pickup, people who worked with the first director, Sir Larry. And it was so wonderful to hear these great artists hark back to the same: how grateful they were to have been at the National when Sir Lawrence was there. How much they learned from him, how much he gave to them generously, how they were in awe of him, how much they loved him. To have a place where they could work on new plays as well as the classics, and experiment and hone their craft. What a joy!
On the 1st and 2nd of November, the celebrations will climax with wonderful actors, including Dame Judy Dench and Derek Jacobi, coming together in one long night to give us a taste of the great shows we had the pleasure of seeing over the last 50 years. If you can, be there, and be part of this major fundraising effort (tickets are £330/£500).
For most of us lesser mortals, the whole thing will be televised (very NT); art for all of us who care about it. They live the programme in that place!
It was only appropriate that the Queen and Price Phillip came to celebrate with them, she very pretty in pink, what a lady! Let us hope she insisted that the NT does not go the way of the Southbank centre, which seems to be more and more of a food/drink outlet nowadays than a Concert Hall. The wonderful, stylish hall we once knew and celebrated not so long ago is now overcrowded with bars and cafes and restaurants. Of course, this is useful revenue, but it is destroying the very fabric of this beautiful building. The music still lives, but for how long? (Courageously, Nicholas Hytner had objected to their ever-growing demand on space lately. Where are English Heritage when we need them? Any angels out there?)
Let us hope that our National Theatre will get the Government support it so richly deserves in order to maintain the fantastic high standards they have maintained for so long.
Happy birthday NT. Well done! Power to all your elbows.