National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage, THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Feb. 14, PBS

5th February 2014 by
Like Monsters and Critics on Facebook

National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage, THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Feb. 14, PBS

National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Friday, February 14 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS

Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Penelope Wilton and many more will make Valentine’s Day a special one for those who love theater.

The National Theatre opened its doors in 1963 with Laurence Olivier as its first director.  Eight hundred productions later, the venerable institution celebrates its 50th anniversary with a starry cast of theatrical legends to applaud the remarkable people and plays that have made the NT one of the most cherished and creative wellspring’s of international theater: from premieres of plays by Tom Stoppard, Peter Shaffer, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett and David Hare, to outstanding revivals of classic plays and musicals.

from PBS

National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage will air on Great Performances, Friday, February 14 at 9 p.m., ET on PBS (check local listings).

Directed by the NT’s Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner, the star-studded evening of live performance also features rare glimpses from the archive spotlighting many of the most celebrated actors who have performed on the National’s stages over the past five decades.


BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (the play was first performed at the National Theatre in 1967 with John Stride and Edward Petherbridge in the title roles). Photo credit: ©Catherine Ashmore

In his five-star review, Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph remarked that the evening featured “(a) cast that seemed like a who’s who of British theatre…” Michael Billington in The Guardian called it “a brilliant kaleidoscopic entertainment that not only evoked the National’s past but also, through astute recasting, opened up possibilities for the future.” And Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail dubbed it “(t)he kind of fabled, luminous night that people talk about for years…The whole evening was a triumph.”

Extracts range from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (with Benedict Cumberbatch) to The History Boys (with playwright Alan Bennett and original stars James Corden and Dominic Cooper), and from Mourning Becomes Electra (with Helen Mirren and Tim Pigott-Smith) to Bedroom Farce (with Maggie Smith’s “Downtown Abbey” co-star Penelope Wilton).

NT AT 50

DAME MAGGIE SMITH giving a speech from The Beaux’ Stratagem by George Farquhar (which she originally played at the National Theatre in 1970). ©Catherine Ashmore

There are musical numbers from A Little Night Music (Judi Dench singing “Send in the Clowns”), My Fair Lady (Alex Jennings as Henry Higgins leading Eliza and Pickering in “The Rain in Spain”), and Guys and Dolls (Clive Rowe bringing down the house with “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”).

Priceless archival scenes include Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (with Maggie Smith), Amadeus (with Paul Scofield), and Richard III (with Ian McKellen). There are felicitous juxtapositions of then and now, such as Smith’s youthful turn in the Coward play followed by her live-on-stage speech from Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Strategem.

A special treat is Joan Plowright recreating her Saint Joan on the stage of the Old Vic, the home of the original National Theatre – prior to the construction of the present South Bank complex — run by husband Olivier.

NT 50th

DOMINIC COOPER and ANDREW SCOTT in Angels in America by Tony Kushner (which received its London premiere at the NT in 1992). Photo credit: ©Catherine Ashmore

The cast of 100 also includes Roger Allam, Simon Russell Beale, Frances de la Tour, Christopher Eccleston, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Rory Kinnear, Adrian Lester, Anna Maxwell Martin, Andrew Scott, and many more.

The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal will be published in the United States by Oberon Books/Theatre Communications Group to coincide with the PBS broadcast.

NT AT 50

SIR DEREK JACOBI as the Ghost in Hamlet (he played Laertes in the NT’s opening production of Hamlet in 1963). Photo credit: ©Catherine Ashmore

A National Theatre Production in association with BBC Events Production and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, The National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage was directed for television by Tim Van Someren and produced by Robin Hawkes, with David Sabel as executive producer.

Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Great Performances is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Starr Foundation, and public television viewers, and PBS.

For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.

Visit Great Performances Online at for additional information about this and other programs.