National Theatre 50th Anniversary

8 Dec

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to catch the National Theatre’s 50th Anniversary production at a cinema.

The production was awesome.  It was like a sampler of plays.  I have decided I need to see Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Arcadia”, and Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” the first time there are revivals.  The excerpts I saw just made me want to see more.

The production was a mixture of live performances of snippets from plays, and archival footage.  It was a delight to see Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens in a scene from “The Recruiting Officer”.  We need revivals of Restoration comedy.  Sheridan and his contemporaries are vastly under-rated today.

Benedict Cumberbatch was brilliant in the excerpt from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”.  I am unsure which character he played, as I am not familiar with the play.  He was delightfully nutty.  Almost sweetly simple.  The other actor, whose name I forget, didn’t have many lines, but said so much with a look.  A look that mostly said “Stop thinking, you’ll hurt yourself!”.  I would really love to see Benedict in a production of this play.  I think it would be an incredibly memorable experience.

Another Sherlock alumni, Andrew Scott, performed in an excerpt from the AIDS play “Angels in America”.  I think he had THE best line in the entire production. “If I hadn’t been fellating you for four years, I’d think you were straight”.  Delivered as only Andrew Scott can manage.  This is another play I want to see some day, preferably with Andrew Scott.

Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon did a fairly long excerpt from Harold Pinter’s play “No Man’s Land”. It was obvious within seconds that Harold Pinter not only marched to the beat of a different drum, he marched to an entirely different brass band!  And the word shit coming out of Derek Jacobi’s mouth just seems so wrong.  It’s like hearing a nun swear!

Roger Allam was fantastic in a monologue from a play set in Hitler’s Germany at the end of World War II.  I missed the name of the play and the playwright, I’m afraid.  His voice and his presence are awe inspiring.  I could listen to Roger Allam all day.  This man needs to do some talking books.

I think, however, the thing that moved me the most was Joan Plowright, Lady Olivier, recreating her role of St Joan from George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name.  She gave Joan’s speech to the judges when she renounces her previous testimony.  I sat there with tears in my eyes, moved almost beyond measure.  Even at her advanced age, and in obvious ill health, Lady Olivier’s talent is a shining beacon.

The National Theatre’s 50th Anniversary was a fantastic experience.  I hope to see something at the National when I visit London in 2015.

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