The current director of the theater, Nicholas Hytner, directed the actors in an evening of re-hearsals, that is, re-hearings, and re-views, that is re-seeings. Across the screen parade -- in person, on film, in scenes, and interviews -- Ayckbourn and Stoppard, Bennett and Cumberbatch, Smith and Dench and de la Tour, "Amadeus" and "Guys and Dolls." Many of the faces are known from theater but also now from telly. It is a parade worth saluting.
The National Theatre began in 1963 at the Old Vic's borrowed stage. The new theater, comprising three houses, on south bank of the Thames, opened in 1976; It comprises three houses: Broadway, Off-Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera all on one stage. Laurence Olivier was director from 1963 to 72, starting with "Hamlet," directed by Peter O'Toole. Olivier represented the theater in a symbolic way, says playwright Tom Stoppard. The widow Olivier, Joan Plowright, says this actors' theater was originally run by the greatest actor of all time.
Olivier, Hall, then Eyre ("air"), Nunn then Hytner. Only five directors. Five directors for 800 productions for 50 years! A two-hour staging of short scenes of the 800 becomes 3 hours with 6 actors appearing from the original company. Sub titles explain who's doing what when for the film audience without a program. A bit of recordings from the archives appear on film, but most scenes are played live on stage. The celebratory evening starts with the theater's first production, "Hamlet" with the ghost played by Derek Jacobi, who played Laertes in the original; the rest of the scene, by this year's company.
Plowright talks about how scared Olivier was, followed by a filmed scene of the two of them in "Uncle Vanya." Maggie Smith appears as Myra via film in Coward's "Hay Fever," then she stands alone before a curtain red to receive the applause for a monologue from "The Beaux Strategem." Joan Plowright played Saint Joan 50 years later with a tear in her old eye; she watches herself from the audience at the celebration. Benedict Cumberbatch speaks of Stoppard's first play at the National Theatre in 1987, "Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead"; then he plays in the dead box scene in his pumpkin pants for the anniversary audience.
The stars and the scenes, the producers and actors and directors keep coming in a cocktail of film and stage work, interviews and monologues. Yes, "The National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage" appears in pieces but oh! what glorious bits and salutary bobs. The finale is pentecostal and the honor to techies produces tears.