I love theatre. And I’m not talking about a casual fondness. No, this is a can’t-live-without-it type of love. It’s a love affair that began as a young child, and has since spanned a couple of decades, many continents, well over a thousand shows, and one career spent backstage at countless theatres. It is one of my life’s passions, and I will forever be thankful to my family for recognizing this passion early on and fostering my love for this art form by taking me to see shows whenever they could. There is something magical about theatre, and whenever I’m sitting in an audience waiting for a show to begin, a shiver always runs down my spine in that fleeting moment when the lights begin to dim, because in that instant, anything is possible.
I have been fortunate to have seen many incredible productions over the years, starring some of the greatest actors working today, but nothing comes close to what I witnessed this past weekend. The National Theatre in London is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, a two and a half hour gala performance, titled 50 Years on Stage, was mounted this past Saturday, featuring over 100 different actors who have previously graced the National Theatre’s stages, performing scenes and snippets from some of the most famous productions to have ever been presented by this incredible theatre company. Beginning with Hamlet, the first production the National Theatre staged in 1963, before moving through the decades right up to the recently ended production of Othello, the show was a celebration of theatre at its greatest.
Classic works, such as The Cherry Orchard, Antony and Cleopatra, and King Lear, landmark musicals such as My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, and A Little Night Music, contemporary classics such as Angels and America, Arcadia, Stuff Happens, and War Horse, and recent offbeat gems such as One Man, Two Guvnors, London Road, and Jerry Springer – The Opera all made appearances, performed by a phenomenal company of actors that included Judi Dench, Simon Russell Beale, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear, Joan Plowright, Christopher Eccleston, Helen Mirren, Andrew Scott, Dominic Cooper, Michael Gambon, James Corden, Roger Allam, Alex Jennings, Frances de la Tour, Adrian Lester, and Benedict Cumberbatch. It was astonishing to see so much talent in one place, performing some of the greatest written works for the stage, and the scenes were hilarious and heart wrenching and everything in between.
It was while watching this breathtaking production that I realized just why theatre has such a strong hold on my heart. It is an exquisite art form where performance, direction, design, and script come together to create something beautiful that occurs live before your very eyes. Theatre may have some inherent physical limitations, but by the same token, truly anything can happen. When those lights went down on Saturday, I felt that familiar shiver go down my spine, and although this performance was a celebration of the 50 years past, personally, I’m looking forward to another 50 years of shivers.