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Arena: the National Theatre

Thu Oct 24, 9-10pm, BBC4

Arena: the National Theatre
By Andrzej Lukowski |
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Episode one
While only a hyperbolic loon would say there’s been more drama off stage than on during the NT’s 50-year-lifespan, there are certainly a fair few stories to be told about the theatre’s half-century.

Most of the really juicy stuff comes in the second part of Adam Low’s two-part ‘Arena’ doc, commissioned to coincide with the venue’s birthday celebrations. This first half, which looks at the NT’s pre-South Bank early days at the Old Vic, is closer to an account of ten years in the career of Laurence Olivier, the acting giant who founded the institution. But that’s fair enough: between 1963 and 1973, Olivier was the NT, and the clips and audio records of his great roles – ‘Othello’, ‘The Recruiting Officer’, his titanic ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ – are electrifying.

The constant use of establishing ’60s footage – The Beatles, gamine lasses in miniskirts – gets a touch wearying, but the archive theatre footage is all wonderful. No great revelations, but a lucid guide to ten of the most crucial years in the history of British theatre. Concludes at the same time next week.

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