The Week in Arts: A daring new role for the National Theatre

Share
Related Topics

The redoubtable Thelma Holt is a West End producer not averse to taking risks. Her track record has been recognised as far afield as Japan, which recently bestowed upon her its prestigious commendation, the Order of the Rising Sun. But with her next venture she is doing something even she has not done before - putting on a show sight unseen.

Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy, starring David Suchet, had had a regional tour, but Ms Holt had yet to see the production. The controversial play has not been staged in London since 1963, when its plot of a father asking his son to pretend to be homosexual to entrap a client caused a predictable stir. Thelma Holt wanted it back in the West End so badly that she dispensed with the usual formality of actually seeing it.

For me, she has highlighted a bigger issue here than this particular play. It is the issue of how some of Britain's foremost playwrights fall out of fashion and are neglected. Any play by Rattigan in the West End is rare. At the National Theatre his plays are rarer still. Should it not have been Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre that took the plunge and restaged this cause célèbre?

But then, for all its brilliance under Hytner, the National Theatre is still not a place where one should look for a history of British playwriting. I have given up asking directors of the National Theatre how they define the words National Theatre. It's too painful to watch the puzzled expressions on their faces. And nowhere in the NT's own literature is it defined.

Rattigan, once a giant of the British theatre, who must be virtually unknown to two generations or more, is seldom staged there. It's the same story with a host of other playwrights who were significant figures in their time - from Somerset Maugham to Arnold Wesker.

It is wrong to assume that there is not a hunger among audiences to explore the work of writers long thought to be out of fashion. Look at the success over the past year of R C Sherriff's First World War play Journey's End and the extensions to its run as the audiences kept on flocking in.

It shouldn't have to fall to bold, commercial producers such as Thelma Holt to put the microscope on Britain's theatrical heritage. The National Theatre could mount a season of 20th-century British playwriting every year in one of its three auditoria. Perhaps one decade could feature each year. It would be a way of reflecting not just on styles of playwriting but also on the social mores of the period.

Now there's a daring new role for the National Theatre. It could be a National Theatre.

Today they want a revolution...

It's always fun when Radio 4's Today programme puts on a music item to show that there's more to the world than politics. It featured a report on "answer-records", the trend for songs that respond to another song, usually involving two singers who were once in a relationship.

But the first "answer-record", according to the Today programme, came in 1968. It was "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones, a response to The Beatles' ambivalent song "Revolution". Segments of both classic tracks were played on Today and a member of The Rolling Stones, Ron Wood, even came on the programme to say how much he loved performing "Street Fighting Man". Ron's very quotable, but he wasn't, of course, a Stone in 1968.

It's a fascinating thesis by Today. But Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, pictured, must have been blessed with psychic powers. "Street Fighting Man" was recorded in March/April 1968. "Revolution", John Lennon's response to the student uprising in Paris of May in that year, was recorded on 31 May.

¿ Sir Peter Hall's desire to stage Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre in London this autumn is understandable. He wants to mark the 50th anniversary of his staging the premiere of Samuel Beckett's masterpiece. But his wish has been ruined by the Barbican Theatre and the Beckett estate which have jointly forbidden it, as the Barbican is mounting its own version next year.

Does the Barbican think London theatregoers can't cope with two productions of a classic several months apart? Sir Peter says he is "amazed and disappointed" at the Barbican's action. I'd add that the Barbican should perhaps remember that it has a theatre only because of the determination nearly 30 years ago of one man, the then head of the RSC, Sir Peter Hall.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin