When I was living in London in the ’70s, a new theater was rising on the South Bank— a colossal cement pile of a building, spawn of the same architectural school of thought as the UMass Fine Arts Center, and just as ugly. (It was famously compared by Prince Charles to a nuclear power station.)
The new home of the National Theatre—since 1988 permitted by Her Majesty’s pleasure to add “Royal” to its name, though everybody just calls it The National—opened in 1976. The company had been holding forth at the Old Vic theater down the street since 1963, when it debuted with a production of Hamlet starring Peter O’Toole and directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, the National’s first artistic director, after whom the largest of the new complex’s three theaters was named.
Last week was the 50th anniversary of that first production, and this weekend the theater is throwing itself a party to celebrate. The gala features highlights from some of the National’s 800-odd productions, with an all-star cast including old-timers like Sirs Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi, Dames Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, and young bloods from Ralph Fiennes to Simon Russell Beale to Benedict Cumberbatch to Rory Kinnear.
Tickets for the Saturday bash were snapped up long ago, but there are a few seats left for the Friday preview—at £300 to £500 a pop (plus airfare). However, we lucky stay-at-homes can attend the celebration for a ticket price in the low two figures, courtesy of the Amherst Cinema and the National’s NT Live satellite broadcast series. Most of those big-screen, high-def shows, shot live on stage during evening performances, are time-delayed in U.S. cinemas, but this one will be live-live, starting at 4:45 p.m. this Saturday, with an encore on Nov. 20 at 7 (amherstcinema.org for tickets and info).
Lenelle Moïse is a self-described “traveling poet, playwright and solo performance artist who creates jazz-infused, hip-hop-bred, politicized texts about Haitian-American identity, creative resistance and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, memory and spirit”—a description which I can attest is pretty darn accurate. She is also, by the way, a force of nature—a performer who not only recites her smart, passionate works (from handmade scrolls) but embodies them physically, explosively, and sings as much as she speaks.
A Valley resident who’s currently a playwriting fellow at Boston’s Huntington Theatre, she’s giving a rare performance of her acclaimed autobiographical coming-of-age piece, Womb-Words, Thirsting, in Putney this weekend. The solo show, “a brew full of womanist Vodou jazz, queer theory hip-hop, spoken word and song … an interactive performance of patchwork poetic storytelling,” is part of Sandglass Theater’s Voices of Community performance series exploring various issues of diversity.•
Nov. 2-3, Sandglass Theater, 17 Kimball Hill, Putney, Vt., 802-387-4051, sandglasstheater.org.
Chris Rohmann is at StageStruck@crocker.com and his StageStruck blog is at valleyadvocate.com/blogs/stagestruck.