Blog: Concrete Reality – sharing stories with the National Theatre

Photo 20-06-2015 13 29 58
Image from the National Theatre’s exhibition  Concrete Reality featuring the CFT stage

In January 2015, we were contacted by the National Theatre who were in the process of putting together an exhibition all about the architecture of the NT building on London’s South Bank. Some of our archive digitisation work had caught their eye and enquiries were made about using some of this work in their exhibition.

The exhibition Concrete Reality opened in May 2015 in the Wolfson Gallery at the National, taking into account the initial idea, beginning stages and follow-through of the building project that is now home to the biggest theatrical producing house in the UK. Sir Laurence Olivier, Chichester Festival Theatre’s first Artistic Director was also appointed Artistic Director of the National Theatre in the same year CFT opened in 1962; as well as this direct connection, CFT, amongst other regional theatres at the time, was used as a reference point throughout the design process.

National Theatre plan - different types of stages
Sunday Times article from 1963 on the evolution of the National Theatre

CFT’s connection to the National features several times throughout the exhibition and is also referenced in the accompanying publication Concrete Reality: Denys Lasdun and the National Theatre. In both instances, the images and information used are credited to the CFT archive; what a huge sense of satisfaction after all our hard work! It’s now becoming clearer to see the ways in which the CFT archive (and its digital counterpart) forms part of a wider connection within the theatre world and simply how important it has been to secure CFT’s heritage and share it with others. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without the work of our archiving and digitisation volunteers.

Cast List - Trelawny of the Wells - 1965 - 1 of 2
Programme from the CFT production of Trelawny of the “Wells” performed by The National Theatre Company


CFT’s link to the National Theatre has been recorded in lots of different ways – we’ve been able to research this further through the use of programmes, casting schedules, press cuttings and more (see picture 3);from 1963-1965 productions were performed simultaneously at Chichester Festival Theatre and at The Old Vic, which was the original, temporary home for the National Theatre company. The actors often dashed between locations to perform in a matinee in Chichester and an evening show in London. Most notable productions to be included in this sharing of shows were The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964), Othello (1965) and Miss Julie & Black Comedy (1965), which starred Maggie Smith and Albert Finney.

larry CFT and NT
Morning London Advertiser article from 20 August 1962

The Old Vic was used as a transitory venue whilst the National Theatre was being built; this journey took much longer than originally anticipated due to a variety of reasons[1]. Concrete and brutalism were huge players in the design ideas and ethos behind the building of the National Theatre and therefore its connection to CFT is very interesting: “There cannot be much doubt that from Chichester will emanate considerable influence in the shaping of the grander and more ambitious South Bank scheme.”[2]

The exhibition runs at the National until the end of September – it’s a great insight into the NT itself but also the changing landscape of theatre and performance

[1] The story of the building of the National Theatre is very well documented in the aforementioned publication accompanying the exhibition and in Daniel Rosenthal’s The National Theatre Story.

[2] Geoffrey Tarran for the Morning London Advertiser, Great Opportunities For Sir Laurence, 20 Aug 1962. (see picture 4)