National Theatre blog

John Lahr speaks to Nicholas Hytner about his biography on Tennessee Williams

John Lahr, former Senior Drama Critic at the New Yorker, discusses his definitive biography of America’s most impassioned, lyrical and autobiographical twentieth century playwright, Tennessee Williams. Drawing on original sources, he delivers a generous consideration of the man, his psychology and his plays.

There have been eight National Theatre productions of Tennessee Williams plays including:

A Streetcar Named Desire

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 Robert Pastorelli and Glenn Close. Photo by Catherine Ashmore. 

Sweet Bird of Youth

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Robert Knepper and Clare Higgins. Photo by John Haynes.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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 Ian Charleson and Lindsay Duncan. Photo by John Haynes.

The Night of the Iguana

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Alfred Molina. Photo by John Haynes.

Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Dean John-Wilson (Ninoy Aquino) and Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Mark Bautista (Ferdinand Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. The company. National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. The company. National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Gia Macuja Atchison (Estrella). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton. Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcso). National Theatre 2014. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Here Lies Love traces the astonishing journey of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, from her meteoric rise to power to descent into infamy and disgrace.

A revolutionary musical experience by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, the new Dorfman theatre has turned into a pulsating club. Don’t miss Alex Timbers’ production that combines heart-pounding beats with adrenaline-fuelled choreography and a remarkable 360-degree staging.

National Theatre plays: from the stage to the screen

Feature film versions of plays premiered at the National Theatre have collectively won 18 Oscars and Baftas, and garnered almost 60 further Oscar and Bafta nominations. From 22 October, in illustrated talks in the NT’s new Clore Learning Centre, Daniel Rosenthal, author of The National Theatre Story, will use material from our Archive and extracts from his interviews with dramatists, directors and actors, to explore the NT and New York productions and screen adaptations of three of those plays: Patrick Marber’s Closer, Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus and David Hare’s Plenty. Here, Daniel Rosenthal sums up their stage-to-screen journeys.

Closer

Closer opened at the Cottesloe in May 1997, directed by Marber, and was praised as a ‘scathing, modern view of the sex war’ (The Guardian). Set in contemporary London, it followed the criss-crossing love lives of Dan (played by Clive Owen), a journalist, Alice (Liza Walker), a former stripper, Anna (Sally Dexter), a photographer, and Larry (Ciarán Hinds), a dermatologist.

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Larry (Ciarán Hinds) and Anna (Sally Dexter) in Closer. Photo by Hugo Glendinning. 

In 1999, when Marber transferred his production to Broadway, its audience included Tony- and Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols, who told Marber he would love to film the play. Marber eventually wrote a Closer screenplay, which Nichols directed in 2004, with Jude Law as Dan and Clive Owen as Larry; Julia Roberts was Anna and Natalie Portman was Alice.

Although the play ends with news of Alice’s death, she survives on screen – a change made during post-production by Nichols and Marber, who could not bear to let Portman’s Alice perish.

Closer grossed $115 million worldwide – an exceptionally high figure for an adult, contemporary drama – and Owen, at his most sardonic, won the Bafta for Best Supporting Actor.

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Liza Walker (Alice) and Clive Owen (Dan) in Closer. Photo by Hugo Glendinning.

Amadeus

On 26 October 1979, the Czech film-maker Miloš Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), watched the first preview of Peter Shaffer’s new play, Amadeus, directed by Peter Hall in the Olivier, with Paul Scofield as Antonio Salieri, court composer in 1780s Vienna, who is tormented by his jealousy of Mozart (played by Simon Callow). At the interval, Forman said to Shaffer: ‘If second act is as good as first, I will make movie of it.’ After the curtain call, Forman told the playwright: ‘Is as good as first!’

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Paul Scofield (Salieri) and Simon Callow (Mozart) in Amadeus. Photo by Nobby Clark.

Hall’s production became a huge hit in London and on Broadway, and in 1981 – to Hall’s great disappointment – Forman was announced as director of the film, which eventually starred F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart.

With a live theatre audience, Amadeus relies heavily on Salieri’s confessional soliloquies and asides, but in Shaffer’s screenplay the aged composer, confined to an asylum, instead confides in a visiting priest, cueing extended flashbacks which incorporate scenes and characters not presented on stage. This reworking brought Shaffer the Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay, one of eight Oscar wins for Amadeus in 1985.

Plenty

When David Hare directed Plenty in the Lyttelton theatre in April 1978, the lead role of Susan Traherne (played by Kate Nelligan) was greeted by the Daily Mail as ‘the finest modern part any actress could conjure up in her wildest dreams’. We follow her from 1943 to 1962, from her thrilling experiences with the Special Operations Executive in Nazi-occupied France, to a stultifying post-war marriage to diplomat Raymond Brock (Stephen Moore). Nelligan won the Evening Standard and SWET (now Olivier) prizes for Best Actress.

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Stephen Moore (Raymond) and Kate Nelligan (Susan) in Plenty. Photo by Nobby Clark.

She played Traherne again in New York in 1982-83, in Hare’s acclaimed new production, but when a movie version followed – with the Australian Fred Schepisi directing Hare’s screenplay – Nelligan ceded the part to Meryl Streep, because, Hare explained, ‘the only way Plenty would ever be [filmed in the 1980s] was with the one pre-eminent screen actress of her generation. It was Meryl or no film.’

Released in 1985, Plenty featured John Gielgud as Sir Leonard Darwin, a diplomat who resigns during the Suez Crisis. Sensing that this would be a unique opportunity to have Gielgud speak his dialogue, Hare expanded Darwin’s role, ‘filling Gielgud’s mouth with my lines as much as I could. It was wonderful.’

Find out more about the Stage to Screen events:

Stage to Screen: Closer, 22 October
Stage to Screen: Amadeus, 11 November
Stage to Screen: Plenty, 18 November

All three Stage to Screen talks are in the new Clore Learning Centre.

Here Lies Love: Imelda Marcos timeline

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s musical Here Lies Love tells the astonishing journey of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, from her meteoric rise to power to descent into infamy and disgrace.

This timeline traces Imelda’s life story as it is presented through songs in the musical.

1898

The US colonises the Philippines, having ‘liberated’ the country from the Spanish. The Philippine-American War ensues, with hundreds of thousands of civilians killed.
(American Troglodyte)

1929

Imelda Romuáldez (later Marcos) is born in Manila. She lives on Solano Avenue, in a garage with her siblings from her father’s first marriage. They are looked after by Estrella Cumpas, who becomes a good friend to Imelda.

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1938

The family move to Tacloban, on the island of Leyte.
(Here Lies Love)

1941-1942

Japan invades the Philippines.

1946

Philippine independence declared.

1949

Imelda wins a beauty contest in her home town. She is crowned ‘Rose of Tacloban’.
(Rose of Tacloban)

1952

Imelda moves to Manila. Her first serious boyfriend is Benigno Aquino, a reporter with political ambitions.
(Child Of The Philippines)

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Aquino breaks off the relationship and marries Corazón Cojuangco.
(Opposites Attract)

1954

Imelda meets young senator Ferdinand Marcos.
(A Perfect Hand)

She marries him after an 11-day courtship.
(11 Days)

Their wedding reception is held on the grounds of the Malacañang Palace. Estrella is not invited.
(When She Passed By)

The Marcos’ go on honeymoon, with a press agent in tow.
(Sugartime Baby)

Marcos instructs Imelda on how to be a political wife. Under the intense pressure, Imelda has a nervous breakdown and is prescribed pills to help her think positively.
(Walk Like A Woman)

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1965

Ferdinand Marcos runs for president with the help of his wife, who campaigns tirelessly for him, often singing at the whistle-stops around the country.
(Don’t You Agree)

The Marcos’ keep many of their campaign promises and become very popular.
(Pretty Face)

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Now first lady, Imelda travels to New York and is welcomed into both discos and high society.
(Dancing Together)

1969

Former boyfriend Aquino, now the opposition leader, gives a speech to the Senate entitled ‘A Pantheon for Imelda’ criticising her profligate spending on arts centres and other projects while a good part of the country lives in poverty.
(The Fabulous One)

1969-70

President Marcos has an affair with an American B-movie actress named Dovie Beams. Dovie holds a press conference to play a recording of a sex tape, which is subsequently broadcast by the University of the Philippines campus radio station.
(Sex Tape)

Imelda, is publicly humiliated.
(Men Will Do Anything)

She is furious, but dedicates herself to the Philippine people.
(Your Star and Slave)

Imelda demands political and financial autonomy from her now ailing husband (he has lupus).
(Poor Me)

Estrella is interviewed by a journalist about her shared childhood with Imelda. Imelda is furious with her friend.  
(Solano Avenue)

1971

Nearing the end of his second term, and forbidden to run for re-election, Ferdinand helps engineer civil strife and mock assassination attempts. In Plaza Miranda, the entire opposition, except Aquino, are killed by an explosion.

1972

Ferdinand declares Martial Law and issues Order 1081, which allows him to continue in power.
(Order 1081)

Aquino is imprisoned by Ferdinand for over seven years.

1975

Aquino stages a hunger-strike that attracts world-wide attention.

1978-79

Imelda begins a campaign of what she calls ‘handbag diplomacy’. She meets world leaders and lobbies for Philippine interests.
(Please Don’t)

1980

Still in prison, Aquino has a heart attack. Imelda releases him to the US for a bypass operation and warns him not to return.
(Seven Years)

1983

Aquino returns to Manila and, as he disembarks the plane, is assassinated.
(Gate 37)

Thousands of people turn up for Aquino’s funeral where his mother makes a speech.
(Just Ask The Flowers)

1986

Under international pressure, Marcos holds an election during which Aquino’s widow, Corazón (Cory), runs against him. Both parties claim victory, but it is clear that the election was rigged. Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets. After four days of peaceful protest the people take control of the TV and radio stations.

Ferdinand, Imelda and their family are airlifted out of the country by US marines.
(Why Don’t You Love Me?)

The People Power Revolution, as it became known, was made by ordinary people, from all walks of life. It became the model for many peaceful revolutions around the world.
(God Draws Straight)

EPILOGUE
(Here Lies Love)

Here Lies Love is now playing in the new Dorfman Theatre, which is transformed into a pulsating club for this immersive theatrical event. Find out more and book tickets.

David Byrne on his musical Here Lies Love

David Byrne in rehearsals at the National Theatre. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

'Some years later, I read in a newspaper that, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Madame Marcos had a mirrorball installed in one floor of her New York townhouse, and that she loved going to dance clubs. I am old enough to have recalled her going to nightspots while her husband, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, had the Philippines under martial law. I found it disturbing that Andy Warhol, for example, an artist I admired, would hang out with Imelda at fashionable discos. I had followed the political bombings in the Philippines, the assassination of Benigno Aquino in 1983, and the People Power revolution that ousted the Marcoses a few years later. Those events were worldwide news. And of course, everyone knew about the shoes that were discovered after the revolution. Given my political leanings, I didn't particularly like this person.'

Read David Byrne’s article in The Independent on how Imelda Marcos’s notorious high life inspired him to create revolutionary musical Here Lies Love

Public Theater cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcos) and Associate Director Andrew Scoville.

Photo by Tristram Kenton Alex Timbers and David Byrne in rehearsal for Here Lies Love. Photo by Tristram Kenton Natalie Mendoza, Jim Andrew Ferrer, Christopher Chung and Julius Ebreo. Photo by Tristram Kenton Here Lies Love company. Photo by Tristram Kenton Theo Jamieson (UK Musical Director) and Dean John-Wilson (Ninoy Aquino). Photo by Tristram Kenton Maria Lawson, Natalie Mendoza, Li-Tong Hsu and Lauren Chia. Photo by Tristram Kenton Martin Sarreal and Aaron Jan Mercado. Photo by Tristram Kenton Maria Lawson, Li-Tong Hsu, Lauren Chia, Christine Allado and Frances Mayli McCann. Photo by Tristram Kenton Mark Bautista (Ferdinand Marcos). Photo by Tristram Kenton Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcos). Photo by Tristram Kenton

In rehearsals for Here Lies Love a revolutionary musical experience by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.

‘A life-giving, roof-raising, booty-shaking blast of pure joy.’(Vogue)

Opens at the National Theatre on 30 September.