First of two documentaries celebrating the National Theatre's 50th anniversary, with contributions from artistic directors, playwrights and stars such as Dame Joan Plowright.
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'People ask me...
'..do the English people want
'a National Theatre?'
'Well, of course they don't. They never want anything.'
They've got a British Museum. But they never wanted it.
They've got a National Gallery but they never wanted it.
'But now that they've got it,
'now that it stands there as a mysterious phenomenon
'that came to them in some sort of fashion,
'they quite approve of it.'
This is the Lyttelton stage now
This is the safety curtain.
This opens - top half goes up, bottom half goes down -
and just behind, another five foot there,
is the Lyttelton stalls.
I will not dwell for long
upon the aims and objects of the National Theatre -
it is not unnatural that people should ask at times
"What is it for?"
I'm not sure that, in doing so
they do not, perhaps unconsciously,
rank themselves amongst the Philistines.
'I should have some difficulty in answering the question
'"What is Hamlet or Midsummer Night's Dream for? '
'Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor.'
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,
with this special observance that you o'erstep not
the modesty of nature.
For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing
whose end, both at the first and now,
was and is to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature.
'After a series of frustrating and embarrassing false starts,
'the National Theatre of Great Britain finally came into being
'on October 22nd 1963
'with the most famous English actor of the time as its first director.'
If there was going to be a National Theatre,
Olivier would have to be running it -
he represented the theatre
in... a symbolic way.
'Erm, he was not just a great actor,
'he was a great man of the theatre.'
'He was still in his prime.'
'He was so wonderfully virile and athletic.'
Yes, you'd better go.
There was also excitement about that because the glamour of Olivier
both as a film star and having made the Shakespeare films.
'But I think he actually liked the thing of being
'the figurehead of the National Theatre.'
..we happy few, we band of brothers,
for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother,
be he ne'er so base...
I was very frightened of it when I started it,
but I looked around as honestly as I could
and, I hope, without self-deception,
and I thought I probably was,
perhaps, the fellow with the best sort of experiences
to start the thing going.
We shall patiently bear the trials which fate sends us,
shall work for others, both now and when we are old,
and we shall have no rest.
Oh, he was very excited by it.
He was also very frightened! SHE LAUGHS
'And he knew he would have to have help,
'so John Dexter and William Gaskill
'both came from the Royal Court
'and became the first two associate directors.'
'In the mid-1950s, the British theatre was radically transformed
'by a revoltionary movement
'which began at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square
'in which Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright
'both played an important part.
Joan Plowright was a product of the Royal Court
and then she'd married Olivier and his performance in The Entertainer
altered his career - and saved his career, he would say.
'But although there was now a National Theatre,
'there was no actual theatre,
'so the company took up temporary residence at the Old Vic,
'which had a long and distinguished history,
'but was south of the river and far away from the commercial theatres
'of London's West End.'
It's a long climb to the top.
Sir Laurence used to say he didn't like the Vic - too many stairs
and he was right.
Your Royal Highness, lords, ladies and gentlemen.
This is a joyous occasion.
The National Theatre
is to be something which the Old Vic is dedicated to,
with Laurence, who is a passionate lover of the theatre.
A fine actor, Laurence has got that feeling
that we are doing something for our country,
something to make our country more aware of itself,
of everything that's happening all over the world.
# Ahhh, ahhh
'In the theatre, of all places it does teach us
'to understand other human beings
'that probably we don't want to know in ordinary life.'
Good night, ladies. Good night Sweet ladies, good night.
Night. Good night!
'With a nod to national theatres in France, Germany and Russia,
'Olivier set out to stage the classics
'and he opened his first season with a full-length production of Hamlet,
'starring Peter O'Toole,
'hot from his film role as Lawrence of Arabia.'
Sir Laurence said "When you start the National Theatre
"after 300 years of talking about it and you open with Hamlet,
"you put on your strongest suit of armour
"and expect everybody to take aim at you",
which I think they did.
It's primarily about three people -
three sons of fathers -
Laertes, Fortinbras and Hamlet
all of whom,
their fathers are murdered.
Hamlet was the first. It wasn't very much liked,
though, of course, it did very good business.
'They didn't really care for Peter O'Toole as Hamlet
'and he and Larry had not really got on all that well.'
'or not to be...'
I think O'Toole had all his own ideas
and rather thought Larry was trying to...
make him into the kind of Hamlet he himself had played on film.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind
to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,...
..or to take arms against a sea of troubles...
..and by opposing end them.
"..and the crowd is absolutely going wild..."
'We were playing a matinee
'and the word had just come
'about Kennedy's assassination.
And, of course, there was a lot of discussion backstage
as to what we should do - whether we should just go on with the play
or whether we should make an announcement.
'I think, at the end of the act
'we made the announcement
'and there was this incredible hush in the audience.'
We're coming into the archive of the National Theatre,
in the basement of the National Theatre studio
And we have here everything documenting the National's history,
from the early 20th-century movement to found the National
up to productions a couple of months ago.
'Although it had produced the world's greatest playwright
'Britain had never had a National Theatre.'
'The idea of founding one emerged in the middle of the 19th century
'and the actor Harley Granville-Barker,
'one of the country's leading Shakespeareans,
'drew up a detailed plan for a National Theatre in 1904.
In this bay, we have production boxes
which document every show the National's ever done.
This is a very early production - The Recruiting Officer -
with Bill Gaskill, who we'd poached from the Royal Court.
Your name, my dear?
Wilful. Jack Wilful at your service.
The Kentish Wilfuls or those of Staffordshire?
Er, both, sir, both.
I'm related to all the Wilfuls in Europe and head of the family.
Do you live in this country?
I live where I stand, I have no habitation beyond this spot
What are you, sir? A rake.
I found I was very nervous. Of him.
It's very unfair
on Sir Laurence,
but it's bound to happen -
you are in awe of him.
Were you petrified?
That doesn't cover it!
But why? Because I'd come from revue.
You know, it's not easy
to suddenly find yourself with that person,
with the entire Royal Court.
They're great fun. I am glad you think so. They bore me stiff.
Myra, don't be statuesque.
Let go of my hand. I won't. You will!
Ooh! Oh, I'm so sorry.
It was an actors' theatre,
in that it was run by the greatest actor we had.
It was a kind of Mecca for actors.
I remember the very first time when we started rehearsing Saint Joan
and he and Joan Plowright came in to meet the company
and we were all in a line
and, like the king and queen, they walked down the line
and greeted each one of us
and when he got to me,
he shook my hand and he eyeballed me
and he eyeballed me and he eyeballed me
until I dropped my eyes,
by which time, my shirt was sticking to my back, of course.
One can see, when a foreign company
who is used to the idea of a permanent ensemble
such as the Moscow Arts Theatre
it is that hot breath of unity
that, whenever I've seen it all through my life,
sometimes rarely, but whenever I have,
it's always seemed to be more important than the star system.
When you were first asked
to be director of the National Theatre,
was this first thought in your mind?
'Kenneth Tynan was the most influential critic of the day,
'as well as an international authority on the theatre.'
'He wrote scathing reviews in his column in the Observer
'and had attacked Olivier himself,
'but he was a fervent supporter of the idea of a National Theatre.'
Tynan wrote and asked
if he could be the dramaturg at the National Theatre.
'We talked about it -
'I thought he ought to be there '
"..before you trust in critics who themselves are sore."
Anything that is constantly changing is obviously alive
and the only critic who is unchanging is a dead critic.
I think Olivier must've thought there was an advantage
in having a dangerously intelligent critic
who might've been spiteful about productions
and it's better to have the spitefulness
confined to the theatre itself
He certainly had an influence on the repertoire
and certainly pushed Olivier to undertake productions
which he might otherwise have not done at all
with which he was probably unfamiliar.
Can I ask you something about All Saints Choir School long ago...
Tynan was a fascinating combination
of star and fan.
..lively, really highly artistic priest..
I think they had an extrordinary relationship, Tynan and Olivier -
it was father-son, it was lovers,
it was haters,
..Ken Tynan... responded
The first thing Sir Laurence and I said to each other
when we started on this journey
was "Let's not be national, let's be international."
Larry and Tynan
needed each other,
but they didn't necessarily LIKE each other very much -
I called him a necessary irritant!
'What if I had said I had seen him do you wrong?'
'Or heard him say?'
'Hath he said anything?' 'He hath, my lord.'
'But be you well assured, no more than he'll unswear.'
'What hath he said?' 'Why, that he did.'
'I know not what he did.'
'Lie...' 'With her?'
'what you will.'
This is John Dexter's very famous production of Othello
with Olivier as the Moor and Frank Finlay as Iago.
'At the age of 56,
'Olivier took on a role he had avoided all his life.'
'His performance as Othello was powerful and monumental.'
'It quickly became legendary
'and was hugely successful.'
Let's talk about Othello a little.
At the beginning, you were reluctant to play the part - why was that
Well, I knew it was a...
I knew it was a terror.
I knew that it was almost impossible.
Here we have Olivier blacking up in the dressing room beforehand
Oh, that was amazing. And then he polished it with chiffon and things.
I used to stick his eyelashes on quite a lot.
'It was quite creepy when we first saw him.'
'He suddenly appeared on the stage.'
'Funny to think now, though. Wouldn't get away with it now.
'It seemed so logical that Laurence should play Othello
'and he clearly had to black up for it.'
Oh, my fair warrior.
Oh, my dear Othello.
'It was difficult
'because Larry has an area around him
'which is quite difficult to... penetrate.'
I would try to be near him and do things
and I don't know whether it was ..
a mixture of not wanting the make-up to come off
or this sort of...
..isolation that I think he wants when acting.
You almost felt you ought to say "Hello, am I allowed in?"
But half an hour! Being done, there is no pause!
It is too late!
The film wasn't much cop. We went and filmed it in a film studio
and it didn't belong in there, really.
You know, a theatre production
I was the Second Gentleman of Cyprus.
I had to run on and make a speech to the senate.
I can still remember the voice now. I can hear it. It was so powerful.
'By the world, I think my wife be honest and think she is not.'
'I think thou art just and think thou art not. I'll have some proof!'
'My name, which was as fresh as Dian's visage,
'is now begrimed and black as mine own face!'
# London, this lovely city...
"They didn't half make a difference on the buses, these coloured chaps."
"Wreathed in smiles and politeness, even at seven in the morning."
"It made a nice change."
'Olivier's Othello also attracted fierce opposition.'
'Some critics mocked his performance
'and accused him of sounding like a West Indian bus conductor.'
I thought it was absolutely awful.
Because so much was made of him blacking himself up
and of him being "like something from the Caribbean."
'He would sometimes fool about during that.'
'He'd whisper "Your fares, please. No standing on the top deck."'
You know, bus conductors used to -
"Your fares, please. No standing on the top deck."
We'd all start corpsing.
I wish that all of you would get away from the idea
that's acting's a terrible drill with the director as sergeant major.
It simply isn't so. Acting's invention, make-believe.
This time, will you please cough up some ideas
and let me say they're terrible
'The Old Vic was founded in 181 .'
'But in the 1930s, it became the home, under Lilian Baylis,
'of a famous theatrical revival
'led by director Tyrone Guthrie
'who staged legendary Shakespeare productions there
'with stars such as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson,
'Peggy Ashcroft and Olivier himself.'
OK, we'll go up to the upper circle.
Lilian Baylis Circle, as it's known.
This would have been a thing that Lilian would've liked -
that her Old Vic should be the National Theatre.
In this way, we also saw that it was a continuity of her work
and the only way we could safely guarantee it.
'90 per cent of the staff are still with us from the old days '
'Almost everybody has had something to do with the Old Vic.'
Almost every actor that you see there
will, at some time or another, be found on our boards -
in fact, it's hardly possible to find a very good actor
who has not been at the Old Vic at some time or another.
'The Old Vic was meant to be a temporary home
'until a new theatre could be built on the site that had been allocated
'on a disused bomb site next to the Festival Hall.'
Just after the first season opened at the Old Vic,
we interviewed the architects.
And then began the most boring week you can imagine
because candidates came from all over Europe
to give their submission of what they thought already
should be the National Theatre
and, after two days of this,
in came an architect who, as far as I remember,
had never done anything in the theatre - Denys Lasdun
and he said "Gentlemen, I think that my background
"and my record is sufficient
"for you to know not only who I am,
"but the way I approach any commission I have,
"so I have nothing further to say to you."
He said this with such quiet authority and conviction
that there was no question - we all said "That's the man."
Have you any idea what shape the National Theatre will take
None at all. Why's that?
Because it will need at least 12 months' examination
before there's an inkling of what it will look like.
'Over and above the problem of solving theatre,
'there is the problem of doing something
'worthy of that bend in the river -
'immense architectural problems
'before you even get down to the technology of the theatre.
Just up here is the highest part of the building.
'My name is Martin.'
'I'm a soldier of Spain and that's it.'
'Most of my life I've spent fighting for land, treasure
'and the cross.'
'I'm worth millions.'
'Soon I'll be dead and they'll bury me out here in Peru,
'the land I helped ruin as a boy.'
'This story is about ruin.'
'Ruin and gold.'
'More gold than any of you will ever see,
'even if you work in a counting house.'
'I'm going to tell you how 167 men
'conquered an empire of ten million.'
This was the National's first new play, by Peter Schaffer.
He became, really, the house playwright.
In Royal Hunt Of The Sun, I was dealing with an epic theme,
it was highly stylised.
The dialogue was not naturalistic,
we had a lot of effects to help us in the stylisation -
masks, chants and rituals of all sorts.
Royal Hunt was drama, it was spectacle,
there was music in it,
it was total theatre.
It was about that time that that phrase came into the language -
"total theatre". Yes.
I'm not so sure I didn't invent it.
'Bring him the gold of Quito and Pachacamac!'
'Bring him the gold of Cusco and Colicanca!'
'Bring him the gold of Viltendota!'
'Bring him the gold of Colai, of Amarys
The play The Royal Hunt Of The Sun had been around for a long time
before the National Theatre decided to do it
and several managements had had it,
but all said it was impossible
to present the conquest of Peru
on the stage - that you would need a cast of about 60 or 70
and the most extraordinary scenic effects,
but in fact we came to a very simple way of presenting it
in that the stage is practically bare and the audience...
imagines it all for themselves
I played an Indian, covered in Texas earth -
it was a body make-up
that made you a sort of bronzed brown,
but it glittered, it had pieces of metal in it. Hell to get off
CILLA BLACK: # Walk on by...
There I was with a black wig that was rather in the Cilla Black style,
like I was looking like an Indian Cilla Black.
Anyway, I came up the...
I had no lines, but I was the interpreter
and I had to do lots of hand gestures to interpret.
It was what the National was born to produce -
that kind of play -
and, after it, other plays followed, I think,
with that kind of... increasing freedom
and I very proud to be the first.
Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Moreover that we much did long to see you.
The need we have to use you did provoke our hasty sending.
'Something have you heard Of Hamlet's transformation...'
You don't seem to feel the need to write socially conscious plays -
there are no strikes, no colour problems, no Vietnam war...
No, but I like to think
that a black soldier on strike in Vietnam
would get some kind of response from my plays.
This is the box for Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead,
Tom Stoppard's great play.
'Who are you?' 'Rosencrantz And Guildenstern.
'Never heard of you.' 'Well, we're nobody special.'
'We have instructions...' 'First I've heard of it.'
'Let me finish! We've come from Denmark.'
'We're delivering Hamlet.' 'Who's he?'
'You've heard of him.' 'Yes, I want nothing to do with it.'
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead
was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1966
it got a particularly good review
in the Observer newspaper the following Sunday.
'Ken Tynan asked if I'd come in and meet him.'
We aren't doing Shakespeare, like the Royal Shakespeare Company,
or new plays like the Royal Court - we're doing the lot.
'We're doing Noel Coward, Sophocles, we're doing new authors,
'foreign premieres, which I haven't talked about...
Ken Tynan had a stutter,
which I would describe as an attractive stutter
and, although I was by no means an adolescent,
I felt adolescent in his presence.
'I was quite honestly in awe of him
'and, to my horror,
'I realised I was stuttering back at him,
'a sort of sympathetic stutter.
'To sum up, your father, whom you love, dies.'
'You are his heir. You come back to find that hardly was the corpse cold
'before his young brother popped onto his throne and into his sheets,
'thereby offending both legal and natural practice '
'Now, why exactly are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?'
And this is the rehearsal room
Top floor of the building.
'During the rehearsals,
'Laurence Olivier would come in not often,
'but I do remember him coming in one day
'and watching the rehearsal for half an hour.'
He got up and went to the door to leave
and turned at the door and said
"Just the odd pearl"
Downstairs is the wardrobe and laundry now.
When the National were here, this was the canteen,
just round the corner here.
'In just a few years, the National had become a major force,
'with sell-out productions that rivalled anything in the West End
'or by its main rival, The Royal Shakespeare Company.
'But the scale of its operation
'was still makeshift and intimate.'
Just a bog-standard... wardrobe room -
costumes and boxes and bits and pieces.
And all you'd expect from a laundry.
Wash basins, washing machines, dryers,
the hot box there for speedy dry
for various costumes.
Every morning, Olivier and I used to traipse round every department
and that created a good relationship with him.
'It was very important that he was accessible to people.'
All the administrative offices
were in a long kind of prefab hut
that had a big rehearsal room at one end,
had a canteen and then had offices going all the way down -
it was the whole block.
It was all in prefabricated huts and make do and mend -
I remember going into the tiny little green room, which was a cafe
with home-made food, with a cigarette machine in the corner
that only sold Olivier cigarettes - you had no choice!
As soon as you got into these shabby Nissen huts,
you felt as if you were sitting there with your leather jackets on,
waiting to be told "Right, scramble."
'It conferred an informality
'on everyone's behaviour
'and I think Larry himself behaved
'like a commander in chief of an air flight.'
BEATLES: # Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
'Puffing and globbering, they dragged theyselves,
'rampling and dancing with wild abdomen,
'stubbing in wild postumes amongst themselves.'
'They seemed Olivier to the world about them.'
'By the late '60s,
'the National was even starting to attract pop royalty.'
'Lennon had published those poems in his own right
'and he and Victor worked on a way of making them a little play.'
I was playing the John Lennon character,
the centre of these poems that he wrote when he was a kid
'Funny thing, you didn't put in pop music.'
'No, because up till then it hadn't hit me.'
Pop music didn't hit me till I was 16 and this is all before 16.
It's not really John's childhood, it's all of ours, isn't it?
It is. We're all one, aren't we
# I read the news today, oh, boy...
'The National was now staging plays that confronted contemporary issues,
'like class and colonialism, took an irreverent approach to the classics
'and reflected the enormous social changes happening at the time.
The recognisable modernity
of the productions that went on at the National Theatre
wouldn't have been even conceivable in the years before the War.
It was part and parcel
of a fundamental widespread transformation
of artistic life and social life,
which were the consequence of our recovering from the Second World War
and the establishment of the National Health Service
and of free education.
'It was a change in attitude towards authority,
It was not Olivier's idea,
I think he did it often rather reluctantly
because he was a creature OF the old days.
'Ken Tynan, on the other hand,
'basked in the new hedonistic atmosphere.'
'He fostered a series of productions
'that reflected the permissiveness of the times
'and extended the boundaries of what was acceptable
'on the stage of the National.
When I did the production of Oedipus,
I had a tremendous clash with Olivier
because the adaptation was done by Ted Hughes,
it was in a strong,...
..sometimes brutal, outrageously... living language
very far from what were
the "correct" versions of a Greek tragedy of those days.
'Tearing his throat!'
'His fingers stabbed
'deep into his eye sockets!'
I was The Messenger. Wonderful part -
just the one speech. You come on and tell the story of him
plucking out his eyes.
'His hands hooked,
'gripped the eyeballs
'and he tugged,
'dragging with all his strength
'till they gave way
'and he flung them from him!'
And then, in the end of the play,
you know the story of the penis I imagine.
At the end, you produce an enormous golden phallic symbol -
it is possible that you could be accused of tastelessness.
In this play, we put on the stage, at the end of the ceremony,
the very object which, in antiquity,
in the Greek theatre, in the Roman theatre,
was the central... object
round which theatre ceremonies unfolded.
Nobody blows raspberries at it
nobody writes graffiti on it, nobody kisses or licks it -
it stands there in the light as it has done all through history,
making no comment and no demands.
It is a phallus.
Peter wanted to end the play by bringing on stage a golden phallus
and then the whole cast would march around the auditorium,
playing and singing "Yes, we have no bananas"
and, for Sir Laurence, this orgiastic finale stuck in his throat
and he summoned Peter Brook and me
for a conversation that went on for about five hours
with a considerable consumption of Scotch
and I recall Peter picking up a very heavy, solid glass ashtray
from the table here
and physically throwing it at Sir Laurence.
'There was only one major incident,
'at the schools' matinee.'
At the end of the play, I went on and said
"The rest of the play is something that many of your teachers
"think you should be spared from seeing and they want to protect you,
"so would the teachers and the classes who can't take it
"now please walk out?"
So a small number got out
and the rest stayed there and the play went on.
And I don't think anyone suffered as a result.
THE KINKS: # Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
# Rolling into the night
# People so busy, make me feel dizzy
# Taxi lights shine so bright..
'Architect Denys Lasdun's plan for a large, new Modernist building
'incorporating three separate stages on the South Bank of the Thames
'was finally unveiled in October 1967.'
In all times in our history, we need a heartening thing -
the most beautiful building in the ideal spot on the River Thames
in the heart of our capital city,
I think, will give a great feeling of pride
to all these islands' inhabitants
and if ever they needed that feeling, it's now.
# Waterloo sunset's fine...
'Lasdun's building is now widely regarded
'as an architectural masterpiece.'
'But at the time, Olivier was forced to defend its brutalism and its cost
'to a very aggressive press.'
Would you argue for it to be given priority over hospitals and schools?
I wouldn't argue that anything should get priority over hospitals
or schools or houses,
but point out that, in Germany it would be given priority
over all those three things.
You're not to have anything to drink today, it's bad for you.
Dear lady, I'm perfectly all right.
All the same, don't you dare have anything to drink.
'Olivier was diagnosed with prostate cancer
'and spent several weeks in hospital.'
He was taken ill when we were doing the Three Sisters
and really, from then on,
he should've been relieved of a bit more... work.
But he didn't want to be.
# For love, for love...
It was St Thomas' Hospital he was in and he had a direct line
through to the prompt corner so that he knew what was going on.
So even then, he was on stage with us.
Good evening. I'm Dr Kilmore. And about time too -
if this is the National Health Service, take me to the leeches
I'm sorry I kept you waiting, Mr...
Bigger, Doctor. Mr Francis Bigger.
Bigger. Francis Bigger?
Wait a minute, that rings a bell.
You're that chap who says doctors and medicine are unnecessary.
Now, this is the lift
that takes us up to the very first room
that I ended up in on my first day here.
'Well, in the end, Mr Mackie's heart stopped three times.'
'And three times I brought him back.'
'They were fetching the artificial respirator when it stopped again
'and some daring soul decided to call it a day.'
'Well, I'm sure I speak for all of those who new him in life
'when I say that he will be remembered
'as an evil-tempered, repulsive old man.'
This is it, yes.
This is the first room I came into with The National Health.
It's the only play I know where they sprayed the stage with antiseptic
so that, when the curtain went up, it smelled like a hospital.
'I played the ward orderly called Barnet.'
My last line in that play was looking at the audience, saying
"It's a funny old world we live in
"and you're lucky to get out of it alive."
And then we had a jazz band playing at the end.
It was a play not to Olivier's taste -
it was very sceptical, very funny, very disrespectful of authority
He'd just been cured of cancer
and there was a very ironic picture of a consultant
doing the round of the wards with all his young doctors behind him.
'He has had an enlargement of the prostate
'with hesitancy of micturition and acute retention.'
'I did a retropubic prostatectomy and put a catheter in his bladder.'
'It was sceptical of the whole structure of British authority
'and I don't think Olivier much cared for that.'
A pound of man's flesh taken from a man is not so estimable
profitable neither, as flesh of muttons, beefs or goats.
I say to buy his favour I extend this friendship -
if he will take it, so...
'When he returned to the helm, Olivier continued to oversee
'every aspect of the theatre
'and to star in many of its productions.'
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Laurence Olivier said
"my wife Joan Plowright would love you to work with her
"when she plays Portia in The Merchant Of Venice"
and I said "Well, that's very nice,
"I'd better come and talk about it."
I wonder how many of these people have realised
that Jonathan Miller's a Jew.
Yes, well, he is a Jew, of course,
but one of the better sort.
I'd rather be working class than a Jew. Yes, there's no comparison.
In fact, I'm not really a Jew. Just Jew-ish.
Not the whole hog, you see.
For a time, Larry was just a bit indifferent
to Jonathan's charms and fun way of working
and also he was a bit cross because Jonathan had said
"It doesn't really need a false nose",
which he put on and had a lot of fun with.
He already had a set of false teeth
which he wore as Shylock
to make his face look different
Gradually, I got him to make him play it simpler
like a businessman who happened to be Jewish,
so I didn't have the heart to say "Come on, Larry, give up the teeth."
'Hath not a Jew... eyes?'
'Hath not a Jew hands?'
'He was, in fact, suffering from memory loss at that time
'he had moments when he did lose the various things which a Jew hath '
"Hath not a Jew eyes?" and then he forgot the rest of the speech,
improvised and said "Hath not a Jew eyes?"
"Hath not a Jew...
He was coming back after quite a long absence
and he was very, very frightened
and I remember Jonathan coming into my dressing room
and saying "What shall I do? He doesn't seem ready to go on stage,
"in fact he says very shortly he's going to go out of the stage door
"and get on the first bus. Can you help?"
'And I said "No, I shall probably go and get on the bus with him. '
The first and last verses of The Red Flag.
# The people's flag...
'Harold Wilson's Labour government
'had allocated ?7.5 million for the new National Theatre building -
'one of its last grand gestures
'before being voted out of office in 1970.'
The National Theatre is your flag flying high,
the ambition of every great producer and actor
to be performing in this theatre.
'Naturally, we're entitled to thank Sir Laurence Olivier
'for his wonderful work
'and he'd be the first to say that he wants the work that he has begun
'carried forward indefinitely into the future.'
Wouldn't you have liked to see it years earlier at a reduced cost
Of course I would, but don't hold me responsible for that.
'The question of whom might take over from Olivier as director
'was beginning to be asked,
'but he had made no provision for appointing a successor.'
My recent illness, there's been a lot of guesswork going on
about when I'll retire and who's going to take over -
I assure you that if anybody wants to take over
or if anybody has thought to have more the qualities necessary
to take over, I would be the happiest man in the world
and to welcome them absolutely
with the heartiest and sincerest of welcomes.
I don't think Olivier thought
anybody could do better than him...
..and therefore he thought he was kind of impregnable.
'The National, having got off to an amazing start,
'inevitably, as all theatres must,
'began to dip.'
It was no longer new, it was spending a lot of money
the shows didn't attract audiences, there was criticism in the press
and Olivier had been very sick
'We went to watch them and I tried to get a few words
'with one of the co-stars Laurence Olivier, but he needed persuading.'
It's an invasion of privacy!
He knew well that he would have to have a successor chosen soon,
but he wanted to choose it himself.
'It was not... pleasantly done.
'Peter Hall is the managing director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.'
'It has two theatres - London's Aldwych and this one in Stratford,
'which is the centre of operations, and we did most of the filming here
'at the time when Peter Hall was beginning to rehearse Macbeth.'
'Without consulting Olivier himself,
'the board of the National began to look for a successor as director.'
'The obvious candidate was Peter Hall,
'the hugely successful founder of the National's main rival,
'the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I want to put certain ideas into your heads...
..about my feeling about the play
so that you will know from what basis
I am selecting what happens.
English theatre at that time came from two distinct strains
it came from Guthrie,
the Old Vic, the great actor knights -
that kind of performance-based theatre -
and the Peter Hall theatre,
which was rooted very much in academia
and in all sorts of orthodoxes
that I was very sceptical about
and the whole cult of the director, which was at its height then.
Ken used to describe the Royal Shakespeare Company as Roundheads
and the National as Cavaliers
and you like them according to taste -
I was on the side of the Cavaliers, I suppose.
'There is, for better or worse
'a way in which we do plays.'
When I first came to work here as a freelance director,
you didn't talk to actors about their text.
I mean, it was an infringement on their technique,
they knew their job. Of course, they didn't.
There were rumours
that Peter Hall had already been asked
while Larry was suggesting people.
They didn't keep me in their midst - I don't know why -
they didn't want me around when they made the final choice
Of course, I suppose
they had this big, big idea of Peter Hall all the time -
it never occurred to me. To me Peter Hall was a friendly enemy
a friendly rival, I should say
Yes, it's when we get a "Look out, this is going to be rrr!" -
that's what we don't want because we've had that.
All I mean is that you're trying to convince him to do it.
I remember vividly when Lord Rayne and Lord Goodman
asked me, off the record,
if I would run as... the new director
when Lord Olivier... gave up.
It was a job I certainly didn't want and I'm not being precious about it,
because obviously it was going to be hell, which it was.
'Olivier made no secret of the fact that he felt he had been ignored
'and even betrayed by his own board.'
I think it was treachery in the highest order,
it involved so many people,
and I think they were concerned
that Tynan would start a rearguard action
and... there would be a huge uproar,...
..which there still was, but it had been done by then
and Larry had had to just swallow it
"Well, Peter Hall is a perfectly respectable director,
"I'll behave properly."
I have the greatest pride in the fact
that my successor is a man of such enormous talent
as Peter Hall.
I gladly face not having an acre of land to my name,
nor a penny in the bank -
I'd be willing to have no home but the poorhouse in my old age
if I could look back now
on having been
the fine artist...
..I might've been.
We had one flop after another. We had it running a debt of ?100,0 0,
which, at that time, was a lot of money.
The sure way of getting people to come to the theatre
was to put Olivier on stage.
Michael was hugely aware that, on this occasion,
really, it did need to be a big success.
'And with Sir Laurence himself he said
'"I don't need to tell him what the scene's about or how to act
'"but just got to control him and make him feel all right",
'which wasn't always easy
'in that he was, by then,
'endearingly and sometimes frighteningly vulnerable.'
The first night I played Othello,
to our manager...
"That young man
"is playing Othello
"better than I ever did."
And he had one of the great triumphs of his career
and we played to capacity
and then had hit after hit after hit
and, within six months, we were back in the black.
'Everybody had said he was over
'and unexpectedly, certainly from the board's point of view
'back came this man at full throttle.'
'It was exciting
'and the wonderfully, almost perverse, turn in his career
'that he could manage.'
The ceremony that you are about to take part in
and to which I am happy to welcome you
is a thoroughly pagan matter.
It is an understatement when I say to you
that I am very happy
to be here today.
'Eventually, in 1973,
'Peter Hall took over as director of the National
'and Olivier gave a final performance
'before retiring from the theatre altogether.'
Next Thursday at the National Theatre, starring Lord Olivier
there's a play I have commissioned
called The Party by Trevor Griffiths,
which is about the possibility
of socialist revolution in this country -
one of the most mature plays about English politics that I know of
We have the production box for The Party,
Olivier's last performance for the National Theatre as John Tagg,
a Marxist trade unionist.
He did the most extraordinary thing in that play -
at the curtain call,
Peter Hall came on
to shake his hand
and Larry looked very startled when he saw him,
but he still went ahead with what he was going to do,
which was his farewell ritual.
He actually knelt down and kissed the stage.
And that was HIS farewell.
'He was kissing his mistress..
'My story being done.'
'She gave me for my pains
'a world of sighs.'
'She swore, in faith, 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange,
''Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful.'
'She wished she had not heard it,
'yet she wished
'heaven had made her
'such a man.'
'For a while,
'it was one of the best companies in the world.'
'It seemed like
'a very privileged lot of people.'
Indeed we were and indeed it had wonderful results.
But when you move
from that Old Vic special place
to a big, modern complex with three theatres,
the National Theatre now has to be open to all comers
and though there will be actors and of course directors...
..who keep coming back,
there is not a permanent company any more
and nor could there be.
'When you were first asked to be director of the National Theatre,
'was this your first thought - to create that sort of company?
Forming a company, helping it along,
leading it, if you like -
not necessarily so.
That's the most exciting thing
I think a man can do.
'a word or two before you go.'
'I have done the state some service
'and they know it.'
'No more of that.'
'I pray you,
'in your letters,
'when you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
'speak of them as they are.'
'nor set down aught in malice.
'Then must you speak
'of one that loved not wisely,
'but too well.'
What do we want?!
'In part two - the National's move into Denys Lasdun's new building
'proves fraught with dangers
'and Peter Hall faces battles
'that are even harder to win than Laurence Olivier's.'
It's only in retrospect that one can say it was OK -
damn nearly wasn't.
'That was the thing that all of us were frightened of -
'that it would actually just be stopped,
'we wouldn't have enough money, the board would resign, that'd be it.'
The National Theatre is 50 in October 2013 and has given the BBC unprecedented access to make two Arena documentaries for BBC Four.
The films ask why it took until 1963 to create a National Theatre, and Dame Joan Plowright talks frankly to director Adam Low about the appointment of her husband Laurence Olivier, the greatest actor of his generation, as the National's first artistic director. The films uncover the life of the Theatre's early golden period at the Old Vic, the National's first home, under the towering presence of Olivier; the commissioning and construction of the controversial and now iconic Denys Lasdun building on the South Bank; and the turbulent succession of Peter Hall at the end of Olivier's reign.
Through the personal anecdotes of those who wrote, directed and performed on the National's many stages the films reveal the stories behind the greatest hit productions, from Olivier's Othello to War Horse, under artistic directors Peter Hall, Richard Eyre, Trevor Nunn and up to and including the latest great successes under Nicholas Hytner. Other contributors include Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Alan Bennett, Judi Dench, Francis de la Tour, David Hare, Alan Ayckbourn and Adrian Lester.