National Theatre blog

An ambitious redevelopment project is underway at the National Theatre.


Project architect Paddy Dillon

Paddy Dillon of Haworth Tompkins, the leading architect behind the building’s transformation, talks about the project….

NT Future is one of the most complex regeneration projects of an existing arts building in the UK”, Paddy explains. “We are hugely excited about all the changes, but particularly about making use of the National Theatre’s spectacular location on the river. The north-eastern corner has been an eyesore for decades, with the waste and goods department right on the river, and this will now finally change. Now that the Thames has become so important to London and Londoners, the new landscaping and the new café and bar on the river bank will be a real benefit to audience members and passers-by who want to come down here to enjoy the river and have a drink and something to eat.”


Stage Door Avenue

Paddy is also very much looking forward to the new Dorfman Theatre foyer. “The Cottesloe foyer used to be overcrowded and hard to find. When the building works finish, we hope that it will be a lovely space to be before or after a show.”


The seats are being installed in the refurbished Dorfman auditorium

“While Denys Lasdun got a lot of things about the building absolutely right, the context around it has changed”

Paddy loves the building, so much is clear. He talks admiringly of Denys Lasdun, the theatre’s architect of the 1960s and 70s. “Denys Lasdun got a lot of things about the building absolutely right”, Paddy explains. “However, the context around the building has changed. In the 1970s, people arrived by car. There was no river walk to the east. Sustainability was not a focus, so we have very much addressed that aspect. Additionally, theatres did not really engage in education – whereas today, the NT runs really creative and valuable education programmes. We’re delighted that the new Clore Learning Centre means that this thriving department will have the space and facilities it needs to do its incredible work.”

“Today, there exists a huge appetite to understand what’s going on behind the scenes”

The architect also talks about the shift in public perception that lies at the heart of NT Future. “In the early years of the National Theatre there was a very rigorous split between back of house and front of house. The idea was that audiences should only experience a spectacle on stage. For them to see how things worked – how sets are made and effects are achieved – seemed like a conjurer giving away his tricks.”

Today, however, audiences want to understand the creative process that goes into making theatre. “These days, there exists a huge appetite to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. We have addressed this shift in the project by making the National Theatre more open. Big windows in the new creative workshops will allow audiences and passers-by to look inside, the new Sherling High-Level Walkway will give people the opportunity to look over the props maker’s shoulders, and the Clore Learning Centre will introduce the magic of theatre-making to our audiences.”

Find out more about NT Future.

A glimpse into rehearsals for The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey

Ireland, World War One. Dashing Harry Heegan returns a hero from the football field having won the game for the Avondales, the local team, but has to catch the last boat back to the trenches with Barney, his teammate, and Teddy, his neighbour. He sings The Silver Tassie before saying farewell to his girlfriend Jessie Taite as well as his friends and family.

The Silver Tassie by Robert Burns

Gae bring to me a pint of wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie;
That I may drink before I go,
A service to my bonnie lassie.

The boat rocks at the pier o’Leith
Full loud the wind blows from the ferry;
The ship rides at the Berwick Law,
An’ I must leave my bonnie Mary!

The trumpets sound, the banners fly,
The glittering spears are ranked and ready;
The shouts of war are heard afar,
The battle closes thick and bloody.

It’s not the roar of sea or shore,
That makes me longer wish to tarry,
Not shouts of war that’s heard afar-
It’s leaving thee, my bonnie lassie!

Behind the scenes on Home

Home brings to life the unheard voices of the young residents and staff who live and work behind the anonymous concrete walls of an inner city high-rise hostel.

This film looks at the creation of this story, featuring interviews with director and writer Nadia Fall, musicians Tom Green and Shakka Philips, and cast member Grace Savage.

A Taste of Honey: Shelagh Delaney, Joan Littlewood and theatre in 1950s Britain

Shelagh Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey when she was nineteen, sending the script to Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. 

This film looks looks at the original production and why it became one of the great defining and taboo-breaking plays of the 1950s.

The Silver Tassie – setting the scene in rehearsals

In act one of The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey, Harry Heegan returns a hero from the football field having won the game for the Avondales, the local team, but has to catch the last boat back to the trenches with Barney, his teammate, and Teddy, his neighbour. The concept of ‘pals’ brigades was introduced in early 1915, seen as a good way to boost volunteer numbers because a group of friends would be able to remain together at the front. It also meant that some communities lost large numbers of their men when that brigade went over the top.

Clockwise from top left: Ronan Raftery, Owen Findlay,
Eoin Geoghegan and Adam Best.

Before Harry leaves for the trenches he bids farewell to his family and friends. The love triangle between Harry, Susie Monican and Jessie Taite is laid to waste by the war when he returns injured.

Ronan Raftery with Deirdre Mullins and Judith Roddy. 

Act two opens with a squad returning from a twelve hour shift of lugging ammunition about. Ammunition boxes could weigh up to 50kg each and were often carried across very damaged terrain and under enemy fire. Using contact improvisations the movement director, Scarlett Mackmin, devised movement to help convey the utter exhaustion felt by the soldiers.

Owen Findlay, Jordan Mifsud and Fred Lancaster. Eoin Geoghegan, Brendan Fleming and Donnla Hughes. Jordan Mifsud and Fred Lancaster.

Communal singing wasn’t just part of life in the trenches it was a crucial survival tool keeping morale up and allowing soldiers a chance to vent their frustrations with their situations, often in a cruelly sardonic manner. Songs from the era are by turn bawdy, bitter and most of all very funny.

The company.

An example of a song that would have been sung in the trenches.

The difference in location between act one and two is so marked that some productions have taken an interval after the first act in order to change the set, but Director Howard Davies and Set Designer Vicki Mortimer were keen that the force of the war exploded into the peace of the Dublin tenement. This is not only a dramatic decision but a cultural one, too, as the impact of the war was felt by a huge number in Ireland; 150,000 soldiers fought in the war.

Howard Davies
and Vicki Mortimer. Aidan Kelly, and with Andrew Westfield.

Sean O’Casey, the Abbey Theatre and the rejection of The Silver Tassie

This short film looks at the rejection of The Silver Tassie by the Abbey Theatre in 1928, which ended a successful relationship between the theatre and Sean O’Casey resulting in plays such as Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars.

Featured in this film is archive material from the Abbey Theatre archive and interviews with Howard Davies (Director), Mairead Delaney (Archivist Abbey Theatre), Roy Foster (Irish Historian) and Shivaun O’Casey (Sean O’Casey’s daughter).

Tessa Ross appointed Chief Executive of the National Theatre

The Board of the National Theatre announces today that Tessa Ross is to become Chief Executive of the National Theatre. Tessa Ross comes to the National Theatre from Channel 4, where she is currently Controller of Film and Drama. She will join the National in November, working alongside Nicholas Hytner, and will formally become Chief Executive, sharing the leadership of the Theatre with Rufus Norris, when he becomes Director in April 2015.

John Makinson, Chairman of the National Theatre, said: ‘The Board of the National Theatre is delighted that Tessa Ross has agreed to join us as our Chief Executive. The National has grown enormously in scale and complexity under the leadership of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr. We are both a national and an international organisation, with a global audience of four million.’

Read more

Sean O’Casey - A timeline of his early life and career

Sean O’Casey is born on 30 March (as John Casey) in Dublin into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family.

Dublin around 1880-1882.

His father dies, leaving his wife and 12 children behind. O’Casey is the fifth eldest sibling.

1880s and early 1890s
O’Casey suffers from Trachoma, a type of bacterial eye infection, and is taken out of school to be tutored by his sister, Bella. In this time his older brother Isaac, who appears in amateur dramatics, takes him to see plays.

O’Casey leaves school aged 14 and gets his first job in a hardware and china firm.

He joins the Gaelic League, learns Irish and gaelicizes his name to Seán Ó Cathasaigh.

O’Casey starts to works for the Great Northern Railway.

The Abbey Theatre, the national theatre of Ireland, opens to the public on 27 December, minutes away from where O’Casey lives at the time

c. 1905
O’Casey joins Irish Republic Brotherhood, a secret revolutionary group committed to the use of force to establish an independent Irish republic.

O’Casey is sacked by the Great Northern Railway and works as a casual labourer. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for James Larkin’s union newspaper the Irish Worker.

O’Casey works to bring humanitarian help to those involved in the Dublin Lockout

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Nicholas Hytner announces the NT’s plans for 2014

Ten world premieres are among the forthcoming productions announced at our annual press conference this morning. They include new plays by Tom Stoppard and David Hare; and three new plays by Rona Munro about the Stewart Kings James I, James II and James III of Scotland in co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland. Classic revivals include Euripides’ Medea with Helen McCrory in the title role, and Ralph Fiennes in Shaw’s Man and Superman; Bryony Lavery adapts Treasure Island for family audiences.

Here are the key points announced:

Our twelfth Travelex season will offer 100,000 £15 Tickets for six plays including:

Carrie Cracknell will direct Euripides’ Medea with Helen McCrory in the title role. The play will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world via NT Live on 4 September.

The James Plays by Rona Munro, co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland open here in September following their world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in August. The cast includes Sofie Grabøl, Blythe Duff, James McArdle, Andrew Rothney and Jamie Sives; directed by Laurie Sansom.

Lloyd Newson’s DV8 Physical Theatre return to the Lyttelton with a new production, John, in October.

Rufus Norris will direct David Hare’s new play, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on the book by Katherine Boo. This production concludes the Travelex season.

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets by 1927 returns in May.

Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang, directed by Alex Sims, opens in The Shed in May.

Polly Stenham’s new play Hotel will open in The Shed in June. Directed by Maria Aberg.

In the summer, there will be a new play by Richard Bean in the Lyttelton, directed by Nicholas Hytner.

Cillian Murphy reunites with Enda Walsh on Ballyturk with Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea joining the cast. Opens in September.

Polly Findlay directs family show Treasure Island, adapted by Bryony Lavery, in the Olivier in December.

Croatian-born writer Tena Štivičić’s new play opens in December, directed by Howard Davies.

Looking ahead: Nicholas Hytner will direct a new play by Tom Stoppard in the Dorfman Theatre in January 2015.

Also in the Dorfman – Sam Holcroft’s new play Rules for Living, directed by Marianne Elliott opens March 2015.

Ralph Fiennes returns to the NT as John Tanner in Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. Simon Godwin directs. Opens February 2015.

This year Watch this Space festival hub will be at St John’s Church and it’ll also pop-up around the neighbourhood…

Download the full press release