The National Theater at 50

RA as Swann

There has recently been broadcast in the U.S. on PBS the program celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the British National Theater. You can read about it HERE. And Here.

What interests me is the broad range of the productions. There is amazing acting, of course. Going back to Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright. To Maggie Smith and Derek Jacobi. Ralph Fiennes. Benedict Cumberbatch. And then there is a production of Guys and Dolls – one of my favorite Broadway musicals

Adrian Lester, Judi Dench, Andrew Scott, Helen Mirren, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McKellen. Wow.

It makes me think about Richard Armitage. How could he give up participating in British theater? If I was an actor, that is where I would want to be. It is the best of the best. Why would an actor not want to be part of that tradition? I’m not criticizing him, just wondering. As an American, it seems like the highest achievement for an actor to be part of British theater. But what do I know? Most of the actors who are seen in these productions, including all the names named above, have achieved fame in other medium as well as British theater.  Film, television. Broadway. A great actor is a great actor.

I didn’t know that Angels in America was first produced by the National Theater. What an achievement! Dominic Cooper and Andrew Scott in the celebration. Of course, I know The History Boys was originally produced there. One of my favorite plays. And Copenhagen.Wow.

There is great theater in America, too, of course. I’ve seen some of it. But as an Anglophile, I guess British theater just speaks to me in a way American theater doesn’t. Somehow even Angels in America seems more powerful when played by British actors.

Judi Dench singing Send in the Clowns. Wow, again. Such an American, Sondheim!, song, but what a performance.

And all we have of Richard Armitage is Pinter/Proust. What the heck?!! We need to see him on stage!!

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About NYCPAT

From New York City. Anglophile, theater-goer, love books, music and LIFE.
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22 Responses to The National Theater at 50

  1. Servetus says:

    Did he “give up” working in British theater? His career trajectory suggests that he tried for awhile after his stints in the Birmingham Rep and the RSC and didn’t get roles. I think probably most actors go where the work is, he doesn’t seem unusual in that regard. He did a read through with the English Touring Theater for The Rover in 2010, and he still seems to want to be in theater.

    In highly selective professions, I think, one doesn’t always get to choose where one practices one’s craft. Probably a lot of people who are teaching at Bronx Community College would like to be teaching at NYU and some of the people who are at NYU wish they were at Yale.

  2. Perry says:

    It really is a great program Marie. In fact, I’m rewatching it right now and Joan Plowright is playing Sonya in Vanya. At two hours, it was too short! What I wouldn’t give to see Ralph Fiennes actually do Pravda and it was great to see the scene from No Man’s Land with Derek Jacobi adn Michael Gambon . ( just watched Maigret on Acorn)
    Some of the actual works are on the roster for the National Theater Live and perhaps more will be added. I think Helen Mirren’s Mourning Becomes Electra was shown this summer. – So there’s a chance to see more of these performances.
    As to Richard Armitage’s stage career, I agree that I thought of him throughout the program. Based on comments on a recent post of mine, his story is that he was disheartened by the lack of audience response. Not sure what he meant really and didn’t read the interview myself. I think all we can say for sure is that he left the RSC and about that time he started getting TV roles.

    • Marie Astra says:

      I find theater so EXCITING! Just watching these performances on television is amazing. No criticism of RA meant at all. Of course you take what you can get! Guess I just wish I could see him in some of these iconic roles!! I believe he is easily the equal of most of these actors.

      • Perry says:

        Speaking of which. Everyone says Armitage is too old for Richard III ( or anyway, he does) but ian McKellen looked older than him and almost as tall)- But of course that was Shakespeare’s R3 at the end of his life ( what 32?)

  3. kelbel75 says:

    the RSC is not exactly something to scoff at 😉 there are vast differences between theater and film, like apples and oranges in some regard; Richard must find something in film more personally gratifying 😎

    • Perry says:

      Not scoffing but he was only part of the general company for 18 months. I don’t think we can say he finds film more gratifying with the limited successful experience he’s had so far. He’s starring in films but he only had supporting roles in theater. Though I am willing to suggest that he finds film more gratifying than the TV he’s done so far. And he has said repeatedly that he’d like to do a play. Today, as Marie pointed out, fine actors do every medium.

      • kelbel75 says:

        the general impression I got from reading the post was that British Theater is thought to be distinguished, I would also put the RSC in that category as well. so it doesn’t really matter how long one participates, just being a part of it is worthy.
        since we don’t know what Richard finds gratifying, I don’t think it’s fair to discount something just because he’s not had wide success in it, or at least your idea of success 😉

      • Marie Astra says:

        I did not intend to criticize Richard for his choices. I’m just wondering why he did not more actively pursue, as far as we know, the theater, given the wealth of excellence in British theater. Other actors seem to do a mix of things. Clearly he can/has made the choices he’s made. Don’t intend to discount anything he’s done! Sounding a bit protective there, kelbel! 😀

      • kelbel75 says:

        you were just wondering why he chose film over theater Marie, and I have no problem with that. what I take issue with is assuming what Richard finds gratifying using only career oriented standards. maybe he *is* biting his fingernails (or cuticles 😛 ) in nervousness, wondering why he’s not a success in film. I don’t think that assessment is fair, whether it’s a fan feeling that way or he himself 😕 I am protective of him, I don’t think that fact is new 😀

      • Marie Astra says:

        Wow, I don’t think I said he’s not a success in films. He never has to do anything beyond Thorin, and I account that a success!! I have no idea what he finds gratifying, really. I would guess any role that is challenging, whether filmed or live, would be gratifying. I just wish, maybe in an AU!, he was able to contribute to the British theater tradition as well. I would dearly love to see him as one of the actors participating in the National Theater at 50 celebration. Don’t be mad at me! 😀

      • kelbel75 says:

        it was Perry’s wording that rubbed me the wrong way: “I don’t think we can say he finds film more gratifying with the limited successful experience he’s had so far.” we all my have diff’t opinions of how successful Richard’s career has been, we don’t have to agree. I just felt like that assessment wasn’t fair, and so I responded to it. 😐

  4. Perry says:

    No one is discounting his stint in RSC,but it was 18 months out of a career that is now 15 years in and while it gave him a paycheck during his time there, it did not propel him to leading or notable roles there or in other theater companies. I think the general point of the post was a lament that Richard didn’t continue to work in British theater for whatever reasons. Some of us proposed reasons,one of which was he wasn’t advancing his career.

  5. linnetmoss says:

    Love this post and totally agree about the appeal of the British stage. Acting onstage and on film are such completely different experiences that RA may prefer the latter. Probably he took the opportunities that were offered him, and they led in the direction of film. Nothing wrong with that. But his increasingly high profile will give him a chance to do more stage roles now, if that is his wish. If Mark Rylance can play Richard III in his 50’s, RA is definitely not too old!

  6. fedoralady says:

    I think he wants interesting, meaty, challenging roles that require him to stretch as an actor, I am not so sure whether the form that takes–film, television or live theatre–is as important to him as the part. I mean, do any of us really know that? And as it has been said, today it is acceptable for a respected “legit” actor to do everything from playing a comic book villain in a blockbuster film to performing Shakespeare on stage. May he have the opportunities to do what he wants to do with his amazing and versatile talents. 😀

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