Two exhibitions and a treasure hunt are part of the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary celebrations at its South Bank home.
Wander into the foyer and near the box office you’ll see a safe, spewing information and memorabilia about the early days of the National upwards to the ceiling. This is the starting point for the National Trail, a treasure hunt in five stops to reveal the code that gets you into a vault on the river terrace. Grab the headphones and choose to listen to history and company members reminiscing (in either the short or long versions, depending on how much time you have) or you can cheat and just listen to the code question – the answers are found in each display. Once you have the code you can discover what’s in the vault; we know it looks like a murder room, but inside it’s like the National’s exploded. Photos cover the walls, there’s more audio and video and a little cinema in the back.
Walking round the Trail, you’ll notice a couple of exhibitions. By the Lyttelton Theatre there’s Scenes from National Life, a collection of photos by Chris Arthur, a former lighting technician who joined the National company in its early days. His hobby was photography and he snapped actors in rehearsal and on stage, and also life around Waterloo (the theatre’s first home was at the Old Vic) in the 1960s. The street shots are fascinating: Lower Marsh market is instantly recognisable, and there’s a photo of Wilson Bros butcher’s shop which is now the Young Vic (see the same tiling). The theatre photography is similarly absorbing, and there’s fun to be had seeing famous faces when they were young. (Five points to anyone who finds ex-Doctor Tom Baker.)
The other exhibition, near the Olivier, focuses on satirical coverage of the National, right from it being just an idea (and a quite elitist one) in the 19th century, to its proposed moves around London and the media having a pop at modern day artistic directors and internal feuds. There’s old press clippings – it’s noticeable how much theatre was discussed in the 60s and 70s, even Private Eye couldn’t keep away – an Aardman animation and even a 10 minute clip of Yes, Prime Minister.
The National Trail is available until 10 November and you can access the vault Mon-Sat 10am-9pm and Sundays from 27 October 1-5pm. Scenes from National Life runs until 10 November and National Theatre Lampoon runs until 5 January 2014. All free.