Olivier Theatre, National

A guide to the National Theatre on London's South Bank

The National Theatre, which celebrated its first half-century in 2013, is the capital's home of publicly funded theatre and is located on the South Bank in a purpose-built venue designed by the architect Denys Lasdun.

The theatre currently has four auditoria enabling it to stage a wide range of productions in spaces ranging from the largest, the Olivier, based on an ancient Greek theatre through the Lyttleton and Cottesloe to the smallest, the Shed, which opened as a home for new writing next to the theatre in April 2013. The range and the quality of work on offer make it a great venue for that special theatre visit with family or loved one.

The National Theatre is located five minutes walk from Waterloo tube and railway stations, nine minutes from Southwark and 11 minutes from Lambeth North. It has a restaurant, a bar and cafes and is within easy access of other popular restaurants and bars. This means it is ideally located for pre- or post-theatre drinks or for taking advantage of one of the great lastminute.com theatre meal deals.

The history

The National Theatre Company was founded and led by Sir Laurence Olivier in 1963, but remained resident at the Old Vic until 1976, when the first of the auditoria at its new home was ready. Initial reactions to both the idea of a National Theatre and the theatre itself were hostile across many fronts. However, the company as it then was, contained some of the greatest actors and enjoyed a number of successes.

The opening night was a production of Hamlet starring Peter O' Toole. Other early landmark productions included Laurence Olivier in Othello (1964) and Franco Zeffirelli's Much Ado About Nothing. Olivier was succeeded by Peter Hall and the move brought undoubted successes for the venue including a succession of UK premieres of the plays of Samuel Beckett such as Happy Days, Pravda and the Oresteia by Aeschylus.

Peter Hall in turn was succeeded in 1987 by Richard Eyre under whom the NT's star continued to blaze brightly. Landmark productions under his stewardship include King Lear, starring Ian Holm in 1997, and Ian McKellen in Richard III in 1990. He, in turn, was succeeded in 1998 by Trevor Nunn. Highlights included an Olivier Award-winning The Merchant of Venice with Henry Goodman and Summerfolk by Maxim Gorky.

Critical acclaim continued with the appointment of Nicholas Hytner as artistic director in 2003, who introduced discounted tickets for young people in a move which dramatically increased audiences. Hit productions included a modern-dress Henry V starring Adrian Lester, Frankenstein directed by Dannie Boyle and starring Jonny Lee Miller, and Benedict Cumberbatch and the farce One Man, Two Governors. The successor to Nicholas Hytner was Rufus Norris.

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