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From 19 to 22 April 2016, a series of events at the National Theatre will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the long history of Shakespeare productions at the National.

The history of the creation of the NT is inextricably linked with William Shakespeare. Effingham Wilson’s proposal for a national theatre was partly inspired by the purchase of Shakespeare’s Birthplace for the nation in 1847. In his 1848 Proposition for a National Theatre he set out a claim that a theatre, ‘a house for Shakespeare’, would be an important complement to the preservation of Shakespeare’s home.

The inaugural production of the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic was Hamlet in 1963, directed by Laurence Olivier and featuring Peter O’Toole. When the NT moved to its new building on the South Bank in 1976, the first production was Hamlet directed by Peter Hall, with Albert Finney in the title role. This year, therefore, also marks the 40th anniversary of Shakespeare productions at the NT on the South Bank.

Including those staged at the Old Vic, there have been 66 productions of Shakespeare’s plays at the NT, the most recent being As You Like It directed by Polly Findlay. Twelfth Night, directed by Simon Godwin, will open in early 2017.

As part of the Shakespeare400 Partnership coordinated by King’s College London, the NT will celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy with a series of talks, an exhibition, and a special outdoor film screening.


Flytower Film: Olivier’s Henry V

Fri 22 April, 8pm, Flytower, free

The National’s iconic Flytower becomes an outdoor cinema, showing the film that earned the NT’s first Director, Laurence Olivier, a special Academy Award for outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director.

‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’

Filmed in rich colour, with a scene set in a reproduction of the Globe Theatre, and an opening aerial shot serving as an emotional tribute to those who had only recently survived the Blitz, Olivier’s dynamic film saluted Shakespeare’s London and provided a powerful reminder of what Britain was defending when it was made.

Starring Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks and Renee Asherson, with music by William Walton.

(1944, dir: Laurence Olivier, 137 mins)

There will be limited chair seating available on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Terrace on Level 2, and plenty of room to sit on the floor.



The Web of Our Life: Shakespeare and…

Using the plays for inspiration, this series looks at how the works continue to tap into everyday issues and key themes, with a leading NT actor and an expert in each field joining Genista McIntosh in conversation.

Old Age

with Simon Russell Beale

Tue 19 April, 5.45pm (1hr), Olivier Theatre, £6/£5

Actor Simon Russell Beale, who played the title role in King Lear in 2014 at the NT, is joined by Simon Lovestone, Professor of Translational Neuroscience and Dementia Research at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, to look at how memory and ageing is explored in Shakespeare’s play, and how the situations experienced by the characters might be mirrored today.


with Lenny Henry

Wed 20 April, 3pm (1hr), Olivier Theatre, £6/£5

Actor Lenny Henry, who played Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors in 2011 at the NT, and George Alagiah, BBC journalist, author of A Home From Home, and Friend of the Migration Museum Project, look at how migration and exile is explored in Shakespeare’s play, and its relevance today.


with Clare Higgins

Wed 20 April, 5.45pm (1hr), Olivier, £6/£5

Actor Clare Higgins, who played Gertrude in Hamlet in 2010 at the NT, is among the guests looking at how family and gender is explored in Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare at the NT

Fri 22 April, Clore Learning Centre and Lyttelton Theatre


The Beginnings

10am (90mins), Clore Learning Centre, £8/£6

The Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre: a journey through the early history of the struggle to bring a National Theatre to Britain. Ailsa Grant Ferguson of the University of Brighton focuses on three key moments – the Shakespeare Memorial Ball in 1911, Shakespeare’s England exhibition in 1912, and the building of the incredible Shakespeare Hut in 1916 – and explores how attitudes and agendas changed as the country moved into wartime, influencing what the new NT was to become, half a century later.

The 20th Century

12noon (90mins), Clore Learning Centre, £8/£6

Daniel Rosenthal, author of The National Theatre Story, explores a series of landmark productions at the NT, illuminating the work of directors and actors. The seminar will feature some of the NT’s extraordinary collection of archive material – photographs, correspondence, designs and more.


The 21st Century

with Nicholas Hytner

2.30pm (1hr), Lyttelton Theatre, £6/£5

The former Director of the NT talks to Abigail Rokison-Woodall about his enormous contribution to the history of Shakespeare at this venue. In her forthcoming book, Shakespeare in the Theatre: Nicholas Hytner, she looks at his career through his Shakespeare productions, including those of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Timon of Athens and Othello at the NT.


Writer for Today

6pm, Lyttelton Theatre, £5/£4

A discussion on how the idea of Shakespeare as our contemporary has been absorbed into the culture, the impact in terms of modern productions, and what the future holds. Guests include Dominic Cooke (director of the NT’s The Comedy of Errors, and BBC’s The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses) and Ben Power (adapter of Romeo and Juliet and The Comedy of Errors for Primary Shakespeare for the NT, and the screenplays for two series of the BBC’s Shakespeare films, The Hollow Crown).



5 Hamlets

Opens Monday 18 April, Lyttelton Lounge, free

A new exhibition from the NT Archive, featuring recordings, props, designs, costume and more from the NT’s five productions of Hamlet – which opened the NT in 1963, our South Bank building in 1976, and has been produced more than any other Shakespeare play.

The latest Lyttelton Lounge exhibition includes material from each of the five productions, which featured lead performances by Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Russell Beale and most recently Rory Kinnear. Visitors to the Lyttelton Lounge can use their mobile devices to gain exclusive access to the expanded digital version of this and other NT exhibitions curated by the Archive. If you do not have a tablet or smart phone, you can borrow one from the NT Bookshop.

For full information on the series of events, visit

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