David Hare and Penelope Wilton: Uncle Vanya and the National Theatre

David Hare and Penelope Wilton’s shared introduction to the National Theatre.

David Hare and Penelope Wilton, speaking at the National Theatre
David Hare and Penelope Wilton, speaking at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s “50 at the National” celebrations are currently underway, are hfeaturing some fascinating Platforms.

The National Theatre’s Platforms are already a theatre institution in their own right, providing a regular 45 minute window (always at 6pm) built around the National’s work and current productions, and theatre generally.

This Tuesday’s (15 October 2013) Platform saw actress Penelope Wilton and writer David Hare take to the stage to discuss their associations with the National Theatre.

And both were surprised to learn that their first experience of the NT was seeing Olivier’s production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at Chichester in 1962.

Laurence Olivier became the National’s first artistic director when the National Theatre Company was constituted in 1962. The National Theatre Company first performed on 22 October 1963 with a production of Hamlet, at the Old Vic Theatre, which was to be the National’s first home until the Olivier Theatre on the South Bank was completed in 1976.

But in 1962 Olivier was the first director of the Chichester Festival Theatre, and formed a company there that would unite with the Old Vic Company in 1963 to form the National Theatre Company.

This 1962 season in Chichester has become theatre legend, featuring three classic productions, Fletcher’s The Chances, Ford’s The Broken Heart and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, all directed by Laurence Olivier.

The Chances starred Rosemary Harris, Kathleen Harrison, Robert Lang, Keith Michell, John Neville and Joan Plowright, designed by Malcolm Pride.

The Broken Heart starred Laurence Olivier, Robert Lang, John Neville, Joan Greenwood, Keith Michell, Peter Woodthorpe, Rosemary Harris, Fay Compton and Alan Howard, designed by Roger Furse.

And Uncle Vanya starred Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Joan Greenwood, Lewis Casson, Sybil Thorndike, Andre Morell, Fay Compton and Peter Woodthorpe, designed by Sean Kenny.

An original clip of Uncle Vanya can be viewed on YouTube, and David Hare noted that the style of Michael Redgrave’s acting was incredibly naturalistic and contemporary and would not jar with modern audiences at all.



Penelope Wilton named Lyn Haill as her unsung hero of the National Theatre, and a close friend. Lyn has been Head of Publications at the National for a number of years and both Wilton and Hare praised her work, particularly for the quality of the programmes that she and her team produce, programmes that have raised the bar for what theatre audiences expect from a programme.


Both Penelope Wilton and David Hare criticised the lack of UK regional productions and international productions staged at the National. Both felt that a perspective on world theatre for London audiences had been lost by decreasing the amount of international or UK regional companies allowed to perform at the National in recent years.


Theatre producers on standby please. Penelope Wilton has always dreamed of playing Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s comedy Hay Fever. No one has ever asked her and she is patiently waiting. GET TO IT!


📷 Main photo: David Hare and Penelope Wilton's shared introduction to the National Theatre.

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