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The National Theatre started out as a seed of an idea as early as the 1840s, when leaflets were handed out advocating for greater creative freedom in theatre, away from the pattern of only supporting what was commercial. The movement developed an ideology of a ‘national’ London-based theatre that would provide a space for Shakespeare plays and pioneering actors, setting an example for other British theatres.
This idealistic vision didn’t approach reality until 100 years later when the government proposed a site and offered financial backing. But it was still another 30 years of financial squabbles, site relocations and changing concepts before the National Theatre opened its doors in 1976.
The practical Lyttelton Theatre was the first of the National’s three theatres to open, and looked the most typical with an adjustable arch over its stage. In a move that probably would have made those 19th century campaigners happy, its first production was Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Albert Finney in the title role. The Lyttelton didn’t have the latest technology like the Olivier, but it did have an effective method for transporting sets onto its stage: platforms that could be pushed on and off at appropriate times, making complex scene changes much simpler.
The National Theatre’s latest venture, National Theatre Live, has been a modern revolution in theatre, offering live feed screenings of its productions to cinemas across the country and abroad for those who may not be able to make it all the way to London. For those who believe in the universal accessibility of theatre, the National Theatre made one of the most significant steps.