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Tuesday 11th February – our 6th meeting of 2014

A smaller group than normal met at Waterloo and made our way to the South Bank. To get out of the wind and rain we walked through the back of the British Film Institute and decided to have a coffee break in their riverfront cafe. Feeling warmer after a drink and chat we walked along further to the large concrete complex that is the National Theatre and upstairs to the area outside of Olivier Theatre where an exhibition depicting the creation of the National Theatre from 1903 was being held.

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Drama critic William Arthur and playwright Harley Granville Barker got together in 1903 to find ways of bringing a National Theatre about and published a report: A National Theatre – Scheme and Estimates in 1907.  This was the start of a long drawn out process and the exhibition shows a wide variety of cartoons, letters, articles, Government Acts and photos tracing the many ups and downs in the formation of the N.T. (National Theatre).

The first site was opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington and Edwin Luytens was appointed architect in 1918.  In 1942 the LCC agreed to exchange the site with one on the South Bank and then moved again further along to its present site.   Edwin Luytens died in 1944 and Brian O’Rourke was appointed in 1946 in his place.   In 1949 the National Theatre Act was passed in which the government agreed to put £1 million towards the building.

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The Queen laid the foundation stone in 1951 but it had been moved so often the Queen suggested it was put on wheels!

There is a long history of money troubles with the funding and the government pulled out of giving the £1 million and so the LCC who considered it an important project for the South Bank put in half a million pounds.

In 1962/3 whilst the South Bank building was being erected the National Theatre was occupying the Old Vic and Lawrence Olivier was named as director and officially opened in 1963.

The present building designed by Denys Lasdum opened in 1976 after many delays due to funding, strikes and political and theatrical problems.  Peter Hall was the director at this time.

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The N.T. was awarded a royal charter in 1988 to celebrate its 25th Anniversary.

Now celebrating its 50th Anniversary the exhibition gives a good account of the very many struggles that were necessary to get the project off the ground and also the very many successes it has had. The cartoons and articles from newspapers and magazines depict the actors/productions etc during that time.  Many of the materials on show were from the pens of Gerald Scarfe and Gary Smith and are very recognizable.

An interesting exhibition and the right decision for us on a cold wet and windy day!

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