Drama GCSE: An introduction to the National Theatre

Why did Britain feel the need for a National Theatre in 1963? We see archive footage of founder Sir Laurence Olivier, explaining what he wanted it to achieve.

British theatre figures such as Sir Tom Stoppard, John Lithgow and Dame Joan Plowright (Olivier's wife) explain why Laurence Olivier was the right man to lead the new National Theatre.

This is interspersed with archive footage of his many famous roles on stage and screen and current National Theatre director, Nicholas Hytner, explains how Olivier was responsible for the growth and development of the National Theatre.

The opening production at the Old Vic was 'Hamlet' in 1963, directed by Laurence Olivier.

The National Theatre soon gained a reputation for showcasing new British talent, such as Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, David Hare, and Alan Bennett.

The development of the new National Theatre building, a modernist design which is its current home, is discussed.

The move to a bigger building and more permanent home, which could house three theatres, was secured by Laurence Olivier, but then the direction of the theatre was taken over by Sir Peter Hall.

Bringing us up to date, into the National Theatre’s 50th year and beyond, contemporary actors such as Dame Judi Dench and James Corden describe the experience of working at the National Theatre.

This clip is from BBC series Arena: The National Theatre.

Teacher Notes

This could be used to introduce students to the history of British theatre, as well as being part of their research on arts organisations or British actors.

Students could look at how the National Theatre works, how it has changed since it opened and what changes they think will happen to the National Theatre in the next 50 years.

The National Theatre could be compared to the National Theatre of Scotland or smaller organisations. What similarities and differences are there between the works they perform and the styles they are performed in?

Curriculum Notes

This clip could be relevant for teaching Drama at KS4/GCSE level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and National 4 and 5 in Scotland.

More from Arena: The National Theatre

Attracting New Audiences to the Theatre
Making Shakespeare Contemporary
Making Theatre Relevant
Othello – Themes and Contemporary Approach