In the 1930s and 1940s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer billed itself as having ?more stars than there are in heaven’, a boast that could have been echoed by the National Theatre’s (NT) 50th-anniversary gala last weekend. Think of almost any luminary of the British stage, and there they were, rivalling the fireworks outside for sparkle.
Dame Judi Dench moving the audience to tears as Cleopatra and with Send in the Clowns. Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Michael Gambon sparring in No Man’s Land. Dame Helen Mirren fighting for her life in Mourning Becomes Electra. Ralph Fiennes making us hope for a revival of the still relevant Pravda. Simon Russell Beale entrancing as Hamlet and Roger Allam mellifluously reminding us of the beauty of Copenhagen’s prose.
But the night’s greatest surprise was a puckish Alan Bennett leading most of the original cast of The History Boys into mischief as Hector. Interspersed with the performances were clips of classic NT productions, most notably Dame Maggie Smith in Hay Fever and Paul Scofield in Amadeus.
What a pity that the celebrations didn’t include the broadcast or release of some of these in their entirety. The thrill of the best of British theatre needn’t only last for one exhilarating evening.
* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter