From stage to PC screen

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Heather Neill checks out the National Theatre's website

One day during rehearsals for the National Theatre production of Henry V, Nicholas Hytner, the director, was delayed on administrative business. Adrian Lester, playing Henry, found the other actors trying out the drill sequences they had been taught by the SAS and began to take charge of his army.

Suddenly, embarrassed at what might have seemed a confusion of his roles as character and actor, he stopped and handed over to someone else.

Giggling chaos ensued, so Lester again took the lead and, by the time Nicholas Hytner arrived, he and his actors looked like a respectable bunch of soldiers.

This incident, revealing the thinking behind the production as well as the challenges of acting, is recorded and commented in the rehearsal diaries, which make up part of the Productions section of the National Theatre website.

The diaries can be printed and read, but they also provide links to the other sections - Issues and People. Issues deals, in the case of Henry V, with the justification for war and doesn't shirk from parallels with today.

A modern-dress production, it was prepared in the run-up to the war with Iraq, which was much on the minds of director and cast. For contrast, Laurence Olivier's patriotic war-time film is considered in detail.

On the opening page of Issues, there are five video links (including Adrian Lester performing "Once more unto the breach"), links to the People section, exemplified by actor Robert Blythe, who played Llewellyn, and to director Nicholas Hytner.

The site offers similar treatment of two other productions, the NT's adaptation of the Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, and Beasts and Beauties, a Bristol Old Vic production based on Grimm's fairy tales.

Birmingham Rep's The Crucible is to join these three in the next month or so.

The Issues section of His Dark Materials deals with the controversy raised by both book and production, especially among Christian teachers. This would be even better if it had been possible to include some of the public discussion between Pullman and the Archbishop of Canterbury, recorded at the theatre.

The People section has details about various occupations around the theatre. This provides careers information as well as insights into the lives of those involved in the creative process. Although the site might be enjoyed by the theatre-goer, it will be especially useful to theatre studies and citizenship teachers, as well as English and drama departments.

There are sections providing lesson plans and information about events and workshops, while the Productions and Issues sections would provide fuel for discussion.

This is the kind of site you can lose yourself in, following link after link. For example, the Alethiometer page in the Productions section of His Dark Materials can take you to: The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford to see the trepanned skull discussed by the character Lyra; Philip Pullman reading from the original manuscript; the same scene performed by Anna Maxwell Martin, or to a variety of relevant People and Issues links.


Other theatre sites:, especially GlobeLink, in which schools can interview characters in current productions. Editions of plays performed at the Globe are being edited for the site.

The Royal Shakespeare Company site has rehearsal diaries of current productions in its Online Play Guides


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