The National Theatre at 50
Sir Larry in his braces, dressing Dame Judi – and fungus on the walls. The NT team reminisce about half a century of backstage highs and lows
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Sunday 27 October 2013
Front of house manager, joined 1967
"I went with my school aged 16 to the National when it was at the Old Vic and just fell in love with it. I wanted to work there and started ushering after school in the evenings. I so enjoyed working as an usherette. Everybody knew everyone, and I remember parties in the rehearsal room at the top of the Old Vic with Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright.
I was there when the Queen came to open the theatre in 1976 and last Tuesday when she came back again to mark the 50th anniversary."
Art director, 1975-2009
"I was a freelance graphic designer and went for a week's work in 1975. I was brought in for the expansion of it from one to three theatres. Everyone wanted to make it work, so it did. It was really buzzy, despite the lack of office space which saw people set up in the corridors. In the early days there was a green room that was open all day. In 1976, I saw a beautiful lady in the green room; she was Brenda Blethyn who was doing Plunder. I asked if she would like to go out for a meal. She said yes, and we've been together since."
Stage manager, 1974-2008
"I had worked with Peter Hall in Stratford, and the National needed more people in every department to move into the South Bank. Moving was incredibly exciting but terrifying. One of the hardest things initially was finding our way around, and then helping actors to. One came off stage wearing pyjamas, went through the wrong door and into the auditorium.
"I was a co-ordinator, working with all departments, and later I looked after the company. I loved looking after the actors. Peggy Ashcroft, who was delightful, John Gielgud, Albert Finney. I then had a great rapport with Ralph Richardson who was like a grandfather to me. There's a National spirit that underlines it all."
Head of print & publications, joined 1973
"Getting a job at the National was a dream come true. I started as a secretary, and the administration offices before the move were in huts, which were fairly disgusting. Rain came through the roof and fungus grew along the walls.
"I think it had been a bombsite, but it was so glamorous because you would see Laurence Olivier walking down the corridors in his red braces. I got involved in the press office, then became head of publications in 1988. We produce all the programmes for all three theatres. It's fascinating; every production you're learning something new. Working with Tom Stoppard, or Alan Bennett or David Hare is just amazing. Every time you're working with a living writer it's wonderful."
Lighting manager, joined in 1988
"Anyone who was in theatre aspired to work for the National then and still would. I started as a lighting technician and have become one of the lighting managers at each of the three theatres. The equipment has changed enormously and the acceleration over the past 15 years has been immense. There are more intelligent lighting systems, and LED lighting. I was lucky enough to go with the tours of Richard II and King Lear to Eastern Europe at a time it was changing dramatically. We were in Romania and Czechoslovakia just months after their revolutions and Berlin soon after the wall came down. Half of my life has been spent in this building. It's been the most incredible 25 years."
"I started as an usherette, and a vacancy came up for a dresser in 1969. I started on the boys before transferring to the leading ladies. I dressed some lovely people and one that stands out is Judi Dench. Funnily enough, we went to the same dancing school in York when we were five, although we didn't remember each other from there. I've been invited to the celebration next Saturday. Will I go? Not half."
Associate director and board member, 1979-2000
"I worked with Richard Eyre on the programme; I've also had quite a lot of plays done at the National. I've found it convivial and reasonably calm as a theatre. Richard freshened up the place with new directors. When I arrived they had hardly done any plays by women or black writers and it has changed a great deal. It's in a good state; everyone would agree Nick Hytner has run it very well."
Stage-door keeper, joined 1975
"I started in December 1975 in what is now office services and helped out on stage door from time to time. I left in July 1980. I couldn't seem to get on in the outside world so came back the same year. I saw Warren Mitchell who asked me how I was, thinking I'd been off sick all that time. That's when I knew this was definitely the place for me."
Executive director, joined in 1987
"When I came to interview for the press office I was terrified by the scale of the place - it's hard not to feel daunted. Yet, in its bones, it was a cheerful organisation. When I re-joined as executive director in 2002, the National was slightly in the doldrums, but I knew it was a great place with nothing fundamentally wrong. Nick Hytner and I knew the order in which to do things. We introduced proper marketing, then the Travelex sponsorship to bring in a new audience, and the cinema screenings. There were a lot of ideological hang-ups: when I was in the press office, box-office targets would be considered almost vulgar. To keep us honest, Nick and I read out the box-office result every Friday."
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