National Theatre blog

Greek Tragedy at the National Theatre

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Explore 50 years of Greek Tragedy at the National Theatre in our interactive Google Cultural Institute exhibit.

Greek tragedy has been part of the NT’s repertoire since the company formed. Its first performances of a Greek tragedy, Sophocles’ Philoctetes, was in 1964. This exhibit explores how the challenges of staging Greek tragedy have been  met on the NT’s stages.

Ten Questions for… Ian Hallard

Ian Hallard is currently appearing in Great Britian

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Billie Piper and Ian Hallard (Felix) in Great Britain. Photo by Johan Persson.

Who do you play in Great Britain?

There are a few of them – and given the play’s subject matter, they are all pretty disreputable individuals. I’m Jimmy, who roots through celebrities’ dustbins for ‘newsworthy’ information; Felix, who’s passing on the royal family’s phone numbers; and St John Flowers – a Tory spin doctor. In addition, I pop up as a bespectacled journalist, a police officer, and I’m also the voice of Bryn Wong – who has had a fling with the Commissioner of the Met.

Describe your character(s) in 3 words.

Jimmy – grubby, thick, mercenary.
Felix – pompous, fey, mercenary.
St John – wheedling, exasperated, mercenary.

Is there a scene you particularly enjoy performing?

The play has an abundance of hysterically funny lines and moments, but, in the final scene, I take particular satisfaction in hearing the audience’s derisive reaction to the pleas of innocence from Virginia White, the Free Press’s incompetent, horse-loving editor.

Who is your backstage hero?

That’s an invidious question – having to name just one! It’s a cliché but all the backstage team, from Shane our Company Manager, to the crew to my dresser, Laura, are wonderful. I’ll plump for Jo Nield, who is our Deputy Stage Manager. She spends the whole rehearsal process alongside us and is always so supportive, calm and in total control, and I always find it a bit sad that once the show opens, because she’s running all the technical cues from the box at the back of the auditorium, we rarely get to see her!

What’s the most memorable on-stage moment you’ve seen or been part of that has made a lasting impression on you?

Can I cheat and pick two? They were both moments that reduced me to tears for similar reasons. I saw The Winter’s Tale at the RSC when I was a teenager and I found the final scene with Hermione’s statue so unexpected and moving. Then Carousel at the Savoy in 2009 – when Billy Bigelow returns to Earth and is glimpsed momentarily by his widow – left me in bits and unable to speak for a good fifteen minutes afterwards. Both moments deal with mortality and bereavement and were just heartbreakingly poignant.

What’s your favourite spot at the NT?

It’s such an honour and a dream come true for an actor to work at the National Theatre, that I have to say, for me, it’s slap bang in the middle of the Lyttelton stage, listening to 900 people having hysterics as they watch the show.

If there was one play you would recommend and it was the only play someone would ever see, which would it be?

I was blown away by London Road, which I saw at the Cottesloe. It felt so fresh and genuinely innovative. The music was magnificent and the cast were phenomenal. It made me realise how rarely in theatre one hears characters speak as real people do, with all their natural speech patterns and hesitations. It was delightful to hear how much inherent humour there is in normal, everyday language. I’m looking forward to the film version immensely.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

A slice of cake from the canteen. I was a big fan of the Rocky Road slice and the date and polenta cake the last time I was here, but since then they’ve added a number of cupcakes to their selection which are giving them a run for their money.

What would be your dream role?

I played Bobby in Sondheim’s Company at drama school, so I’d love the chance to revisit the part now I’m the right age for it.

If you could watch a play with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?

I think watching an original Shakespearean production with Elizabeth I would be pretty special. She’s a fascinating historical figure, and I imagine I’d feel a great temptation to observe her reactions rather than the play itself!

Ten Questions for… Kiruna Stamell

Kiruna Stamell is currently appearing in Great Britain.

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Kiruna Stammel in Great Britain. Photo by Johan Persson.

Who do you play in Great Britain?

Wendy Kinkard - a Lawyer

Describe your character in 3 words.

Intelligent, patient and bold.

Is there a scene you particularly enjoy performing?

My final scene in the Ivy. I get the big guns out in this one.

Who is your backstage hero?

Harriet Thorpe, she has a soft seating area backstage where we can have a little catch up. The sofa next to hers is time-shared between the actors.

What’s the most memorable on-stage moment you’ve seen or been part of that has made a lasting impression on you?

Most definitely the night when the Scott, who is playing the waiter, accidentally managed to get a freakish spin on the glass of champagne he was delivering to me on a tray. It leaped off the tray and bumped me on the head, tipped all over me, hit the table and then smashed on the floor. I was drenched. This, in a scene set in the Ivy, where I am meant to be negotiating a big important deal. Instead of my usual composure and slick lawyer-like composure, I was dripping wet, so were my files, table setting and seat. What do you do in that situation? You have to acknowledge the reality of having just had a glass thrown at your head. The audience were delighted by this new addition to the show. So, as I dabbed myself dry with napkins, we kept on with the scene and were coping quite well until I had to say, ‘I’ve read every splash…’  ‘Splash’ just brought it all back…

What’s your favourite spot at the NT?

On stage.

If there was one play you would recommend and it was the only play someone would ever see, which would it be?

Peeling by Kaite O’Reilly

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Na, the usual a warm-up and make-up… all the ‘ups’.

What would be your dream role?

Little Nell in Rocky Horror Picture Show… or for a new version of the Time Bandits to be made but this time with a female leader…

If you could watch a play with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?

Christopher Marlowe…

Great Britain is playing at the NT until 23 August and transfers to the Haymarket in the West End from 9 September.