Monday, 28 October 2013

The National at 50

The National Theatre is celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year and the BBC have a range of programmes to celebrate it. Last week on BBC4 saw the first of a two part Arena special (it concludes on Thursday this week) looking at the history of the theatre, and on Saturday BBC2 will be showing a special programme featuring a host of actors enacting key scenes from some of the finest plays produced at The National.

Watching the Arena documentary I was struck by this rather lovely and candid photograph of Sir Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith taken during a smoke break/rehearsals for the 1960s production of Othello.

Smith said that she found it quite difficult to be as close and friendly towards Olivier as she'd have liked during the production and she wasn't altogether sure whether that was because he was deliberately closing himself off to keep in character or because he feared the make up would come off from too much touch/interaction. Olivier had to, of course, 'black up' to play Shakespeare's Moor, something which is of course deeply frowned upon now but was routine at the time. Many critics complained that Olivier's Othello looked and sounded like a Caribbean bus conductor (an apt criticism I guess given that Britain at the time was just post the Windrush immigration, with many West Indians gaining jobs on public transport) If it irked Olivier, he didn't show it. Michael Gambon - also in the cast - alleges that during performances he would sidle up to him and whisper 'Any more fares please?' in an attempt to make the cast 'corpse' with laughter!

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