A boisterous version of Moliere's Scapino opened the place in August 1970. The theatre was only intended to serve for a short time as a practice ground for the National Theatre's proposed second auditorium, across the road from its base in the Old Vic, and cost just £110,000, that figure made up of an NT surplus and an Arts Council top-up.
Crucially, it was a young people's theatre, and the first season included Waiting for Godot, Yeats's Oedipus, Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale and The Taming of the Shrew.
Such a season would be just as typical today of David Lan's robust regime in what is easily my favourite London venue. The first show I reviewed there, over 35 years ago, was Peter Handke's mystifying, but riveting, Self-Accusation, directed by the late Gerald Chapman, who is still remembered in a Royal Court directors' fund.
The years were bridged in mock poetic form, as Edward Woodward's youngest daughter recited a special ode written for the Young Vic by Laurence Olivier and Lan replied in kind with a witty and insinuating verse of his own.
The first director, Frank Dunlop, an incredible 83 years young, bounded onto the stage and introduced some of the original Scapino cast, who proceeded to sing a hilarious Italian menu song rhyming cappucino with Dunlop-ino.
Jim Dale, who had been mobbed at the door by Carry On movie fans, reminded us what a great musical theatre star he was in these riotous few minutes, the best we've ever had, apart from Michael Crawford. And he was joined by an ebullient Nicky Henson -- much more like his old self after illness -- and the wonderful Sam Kelly.
Dunlop's successors David Thacker (1983 to 1993) and Tim Supple (1993-2000) were also on hand to supervise a party programme that included a powerful extract from A Raisin in the Sun, a Shakespearian medley (Rudolph Walker as Othello, Kate Fahy as Desdemona, David Calder as Iago, Christopher Timothy as Macbeth and Bill Wallis as Prospero), a delightful reading of laureate Carol Ann Duffy's Hansel and Gretel, and a new Martin Crimp story, The Writer.
Crimp read this latter item himself, too quietly, but just loudly enough to convey its comic premise of a person (Crimp, presumably) who wakes up one morning to find a writer in his bed, in his bathroom and sitting at his own window.
And everyone on stage joined in the public meeting from Arthur Miller's version of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, with Rob Edwards as Stockmann, Tom Mannion as the newspaper editor, Hovstad, and crowd contributions from Kika Markham, Marjorie Yates, Margot Leicester and Brian Protheroe.
Tom Wilkinson played Stockmann in David Thacker's memorable production, but Rob Edwards stood in admirably. Afterwards, Rob told me that he woudn't be coming into town from Chichester with Howard Goodall's Love Story because producer Michael Ball wanted "a name" in the role; shame on Bally.
The audience and overflowing bar was stiff with actors. In the auditorium I was pleasurably crammed in between Tim Supple's administraor, Caroline Maud, and hot-shot designer Ian MacNeil, both important associates of Stephen Daldry; and close by were Frank Barrie, a stylish jeune premier of the Olivier days, Michael Byrne, James Hayes and Ted Clayton, Marty Cruickshank and Dinah Stabb, Clive Rowe, Riggs O'Hara (John Dexter's partner and original West Side Story cast member)...
Frank Dunlop told me he's just moved back to New York to celebrate yet another new lease of life...Roberta Taylor has written two more books; her partner, actor Peter Guinness, tore tickets on the door in the early days.
And someone said that Clive Arundel, whom I haven't seen on stage for years, heart-throb of an early girlfriend, is just as good-looking as he ever was...people were beginning to throw each other in the air...
It was time to cross town for the Knight of Illumination awards dinner in Earls Court. Our host, sadly, was Paul Ross, brother of Jonathan, and pale simulacrum. His tatty chat consisted of unfunny references to famous bro and a stream of invocations to give it up, come on down, come up here, have a drink and go berserk.
Fortunately, the food was good (well, edible; we were in an Ibis hotel, after all) and the lighting awards themselves more than interesting, with well deserved recognition going to the technical excellence on EastEnders and a fabulous looking Pink rock concert.
The judging panel in the dance, opera and theatre sections, convened by David Benedict of Variety (Fiona Maddocks of The Observer, Louise Levene of the Sunday Telegraph, Jenny Gilbert of the Independent on Sunday, Ash Khandekar, editor of Opera Now magazine, and myself), honoured James Ingalls for Mark Morris's L'Allegro and Il Pensiero; Mimi Jordan Sheridan for The Gambler at Covent Garden; and Peter Mumford for Sucker Punch at the Royal Court.
As Paule Constable says, lighting is "telling a story in a beautiful way," and she certainly does just that in the current Royal Court hit, Clybourne Park. Paule sat on our table, as did Rick Fisher and, doyen of their profession, Francis Reid, who was a great lighting designer before the job had really been invented.
It was oddly moving to have spent the afternoon with a crowd of actors and the evening with the people who make sure we can see them properly. And it's back to the Young Vic tonight to see a show, just for a change.
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