Tuesday, June 17, 2014

National Theatre 50th Anniversary Timeline App.

Having recently availed myself of an ipad I've had a chance to experience the National Theatre's new archive app highlighting fifty productions from across their half century in existence. Probably rightly, it's not all Shakespeare, but some of the most important productions are there, Olivier's Othello from 1964, Dench and Hopkins in Antony and Cleopatra in 1987, the Lear/Richard III tandem productions from 1990 which ultimate led to the film version of the latter with Ian McKellan, Fiona Shaw in Richard III from 1995 and Ian Holm's Lear in 1997.

Hamlet is represented by the 2000 production with Simon Russell Beale in the title role. The app is image rather than textually rich. There's little in the way of anecdote or analysis of the productions beyond a short introduction by the playwright Nicholas Wright (also a board member at the NT). A more elaborate approach would have included audio or video of the productions and more extensive text, perhaps at least relevant contemporary interviews with the cast and crew. But to be fair, this is free and such material is available elsewhere.

None of which is to devalue what is here, which includes black and white photos from the rehearsal process, Russell Beale wearing a baggy sweatshirt from an NT Othello production, fabric samples from his real costume, and annotated excerpts from the script showing the actor's movements and stage management cues (revealing Osric filled the role usually assigned to a second gravedigger and that the length introduction to Yorick featured in all its glory). The colour shots of the actual production suggest the production was lit in a style which evoked the Jacobian indoor theatre, faces against the darkness.

Overall I suspect the app will be of most interest the theatre scholars and audience members with long associations with the National. Those of us outside of London without access will feel inevitably frustrated. At some point, probably elsewhere, someone (!) should compile an accessibility guide to all this. Many of these productions have been filmed to some extent and even Russell Beale reprised his role for ArkAngel (my second review on here) (I wonder how I'd approach it differently).  But for all that, this is still well worth a download, should you be able to.

The download gateway is here.

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