Oberon, £35. Order at the discounted price of£29.95 inc. p&p from independent.co.uk/bookshop or call 0843 0600 030
The National Theatre Story, By Daniel Rosenthal
A definitive compendium on the revered institution that is the National Theatre
Friday 06 December 2013
There's a substantial bibliography forming round the National Theatre, 50 years old this year, including the memoirs of its first three directors – Laurence Olivier, Peter Hall and Richard Eyre – and Michael Blakemore's recent Stage Blood, covering just five years of his time with Olivier and disillusion with Hall.
But this weighty tome is the definitive history, synthesising many of the previous works, incorporating extensive new interview material with privileged access to directors' files, administrative records, board papers and the restricted holdings in the NT archive.
That sounds like – and, on first picking up the book with the aid of a fork- lift truck, resembles – Edward Casaubon's obviously unreadable "The Key to All Mythologies" in Middlemarch, an unappetising accumulation of footnotes (so many, flecking each page, like hailstones, that they are not even included in the printed text; go on line, dudes, like everyone else) and bland scholarship.
Rosenthal never lets rip with opinion, alas and hooray, I suppose, apart from getting a little bit excited over London Road, the "verbatim musical" by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. That show, about the Ipswich prostitute murders, probably sealed director Rufus Norris's appointment as sixth artistic director in succession to the incumbent since 2003, Nicholas Hytner.
But this is a story with guts, great actors, laughter, disaster, and other properties that most books don't possess. It's the story of a campaign, a process, a fulfilment; of a triumph of the national character despite itself, of a celebration and a realisation of what we, as a nation, simply do better, probably thanks to Shakespeare, than anyone else: the theatre.
And Rosenthal does, actually, knit it all together, encompassing Olivier and Paul Scofield as well as David Hare and Howard Brenton. There are sections within chapters, edgy snippets of dialogue within chapters, and an even, non-judgmental intelligence behind. It's all too much, probably, but somebody had to do this. Did you want to know why principles of sponsorship became unaffordable luxuries? Or why Daniel Day-Lewis freaked out playing Hamlet? Or why Mary Whitehouse lost her ludicrous private prosecution against a play (which she hadn't seen)? Or why Eyre fell out so badly with an esteemed colleague, Peter Gill? Or why Lloyd Dorfman, chairman of Travelex, gave £10m towards the £78m cost of the NT future development scheme?
It's all here, summarised better than anywhere else, along with analytical stories about key productions, from Olivier's Othello and Alan Ayckbourn's Way Upstream to Bill Bryden's "hairy-arsed, semi-alcoholic" troupe in The Mysteries, to War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors. And there's another, story, too: how the National finally eclipsed the Royal Shakespeare Company which Hall had ironically founded in order to steal its thunder; well, partly… theatre constantly evolves.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Britain First 'acting like Ukip henchmen' by invading meeting of activists in revenge for pub protest against Nigel Farage
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 4 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
- 5 A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Zayn Malik releases first solo song 'I Won't Mind' in 'Zaughty' collaboration with Naughty Boy
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Poldark review: Demelza’s insouciance is almost as impressive as Ross’ pecs
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans