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Fifty years of the National Theatre

3 October 2013 | Charlie Kenber

A series of discussions and events will mark a milestone in the history of a groundbreaking theatrical institution.

The 50th Anniversary of the National Theatre is upon us.

Although that’s certainly a healthy spell, it’s a relatively short period considering the depth to which the National Theatre has entrenched itself in the very heart of the British theatre ecology.

Despite arguably becoming an integral part of the establishment, the National continues to push at the boundaries of creativity with an increasingly broad spectrum of work and ambitious new projects: The Shed, the theatre’s bright red temporary space, springs instantly to mind.

Since its origins as a theatre company in 1963, the NT has staged over 800 productions, and its stages have been graced by the very best of British and talent. It also runs a wide range of outreach projects, supports new artists through the National Theatre Studio, and offers cheap tickets to increase its audience’s diversity.

To celebrate, the theatre is hosting a number of ‘Platform’ events, covering three key areas. ‘Scene Changes’ explores the development of theatre over the past 50 years, assessing key transformations within the industry. Discussions will be held with Felix Barrett (Artistic Director of Punchdrunk Theatre) about theatre spaces, as well as with the illustrious Michael Billington about theatre criticism. Additionally there will be a range of design and technical theatre events.

‘National Histories’ encourages some of the leading artists of the last fifty years to reminisce about their fondest memories of the National. There are simply too many incredible names to mention, with those featured including the likes of Marianne Elliot, Trevor Nunn, David Hare, Rory Kinnear, Alan Bennett, Julie Walters, Simon Russell Beale, Adrian Lester, Zoë Wanamaker and of course Nicholas Hytner himself.

Finally, ‘Future Questions’ at the beginning of November looks forward to the challenges of the next half-century, with panel discussions on writing, funding and regional theatre. All key issues for an industry facing hefty funding cuts which strike most painfully at the arts beyond the capital.

These events also come at a fitting time: the approaching end of Nicholas Hytner’s term as Artistic Director in 2015 marks the end of a hugely successful era in the building’s history. As well as increasing attendance and diversifying the audience through reduced price ticket schemes, Nicholas Hytner pioneered NT Live, which broadcasts productions across the country and the world, making the theatre truly national. Indeed Richard Eyre recently warned that his replacement must redefine the Theatre’s function to avoid being seen as ‘Hytner-lite’.

To top it all off, if you have any particularly powerful memories of the National, either recent or less so, you can join the celebrations by sharing it on Your National Theatre. All memories will them be exhibited in an interactive timeline online. So join in the festivities, and raise a glass to another fifty years to remember.

The National Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Platforms run until 5th November. To find out more about the entire series of events, check out the National Theatre’s website.

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