When did the National Theatre's history begin?
The first proposal for a National Theatre was made in 1848 by Effingham Wilson, a London publisher, and supported by leading figures of the day, including Charles Dickens, critic and poet Matthew Arnold, and actors Charles Kemble and Sir Henry Irving.
What happened next?
There were several unsuccessful attempts to launch the scheme during the rest of the century. Definite plans were formulated in a book by Harley Granville Barker and William Archer in 1903.
When did Parliament give its approval?
Not until 1949 when the National Theatre Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament, without a division. It was left to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to decide when the theatre should be built.
When was the National Theatre company founded?
It was decided in July 1962 that pending completion of the new building, the Old Vic Theatre was to become the temporary home of the specially created National Theatre company. The company's first ever performance was at the Old Vic on 22 October 1963. Before the move to the South Bank, they played at the Old Vic for twelve and a half very successful years, ten of them under the directorship of Laurence Olivier.
When did work start on the building?
The site itself was changed three – arguably four – times. The first foundation stone was laid by the Queen Mother in 1951 next to the Festival Hall. Work on the site where the National Theatre actually stands started on 3 November 1969, and was inaugurated by Jennie Lee (made Baroness in 1970), then Minister for the Arts.
When did public performances start?
Because of the National Theatre Board's wish to make the building live as soon as possible despite protracted building delays, each of the three theatres within the National was used as it became available, even though not finished. The Lyttelton opened first, in March 1976; the Olivier next in October 1976; and the Cottesloe staged its first public performances in March 1977. The Queen officially opened the building on 25 October 1976. Saturday 1 March 1977 was the first night on which all three theatres were playing.
When did the National become the Royal National Theatre?
In October 1988. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the National was granted the title Royal, and HM The Queen unveiled a plaque in the foyer commemorating the event. However, 'National Theatre' is still more commonly used.
Why are the three theatres within the National named as they are?
The Olivier Theatre is named after the National's first Director (1962 until 1973), the late Lord Olivier, then Sir Laurence Olivier (made Baron 1970); and the Lyttelton after the National's first Chairman (1962 until 1971), Oliver Lyttelton (the late Lord Chandos). The third, studio theatre, was named after the late Lord Cottesloe, first Chairman (1962 until 1977) of the South Bank Theatre Board, which was responsible for the building of the National Theatre; following the NT Future redevelopment, it reopened in 2014 as the Dorfman Theatre, named after Lloyd Dorfman CBE, Founder and Chairman of Travelex and a member of the NT Board, in recognition of his personal £10 million philanthropic gift. The three theatres contain, in all, nearly 2,500 seats.
Who has been Director of the National Theatre?
Lord Olivier OM was Director from 1963 to 1973, succeeded by Sir Peter Hall CBE until 1988; Sir Richard Eyre was Director from 1988 until 1997. Sir Trevor Nunn was Director from 1997 to 2003, and was succeeded by Nicholas Hytner from April 2003 to 2015. Our current Director is Rufus Norris.
Who have held the position of Chairman of the National Theatre?
The first Chairman was Oliver Lyttelton (the late Lord Chandos) from 1962 to 1971. He was succeeded as Chairman by Sir Max (later Lord) Rayne in 1971, who served until 1988. The Lady Soames DBE was the third Chairman of the National from 1988 until 1995. Sir Christopher Hogg became Chairman in August 1995; he was succeeded by Sir Hayden Phillips GCB in 2005. John Makinson became Chairman in November 2010. Sir Damon Buffini became Chair in June 2016.
Yes, the NT Archive hold recordings of all productions since 1995 including NT Lives. The Archive is open to all by appointment and you can find out more on our Archive page.
If you still have unanswered questions, please contact us