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Frequently asked questions

More about the National Theatre

When did the National Theatre's history begin?

The first proposal for a National Theatre was made in 1848 by Effingham Wilson, a London publisher, and supported by leading figures of the day, including Charles Dickens, critic and poet Matthew Arnold, and actors Charles Kemble and Sir Henry Irving.

What happened next?

There were several unsuccessful attempts to launch the scheme during the rest of the century. Definite plans were formulated in a book by Harley Granville Barker and William Archer in 1903.

When did Parliament give its approval?

Not until 1949 when the National Theatre Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament, without a division. It was left to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to decide when the theatre should be built.

When was the National Theatre company founded?

It was decided in July 1962 that pending completion of the new building, the Old Vic Theatre was to become the temporary home of the specially created National Theatre company. The company's first ever performance was at the Old Vic on 22 October 1963. Before the move to the South Bank, they played at the Old Vic for twelve and a half very successful years, ten of them under the directorship of Laurence Olivier.

When did work start on the building?

The site itself was changed three – arguably four – times. The first foundation stone was laid by the Queen Mother in 1951 next to the Festival Hall. Work on the site where the National Theatre actually stands started on 3 November 1969, and was inaugurated by Jennie Lee (made Baroness in 1970), then Minister for the Arts.

When did public performances start?

Because of the National Theatre Board's wish to make the building live as soon as possible despite protracted building delays, each of the three theatres within the National was used as it became available, even though not finished. The Lyttelton opened first, in March 1976; the Olivier next in October 1976; and the Cottesloe staged its first public performances in March 1977. The Queen officially opened the building on 25 October 1976. Saturday 1 March 1977 was the first night on which all three theatres were playing.

When did the National become the Royal National Theatre?

In October 1988. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the National was granted the title Royal, and HM The Queen unveiled a plaque in the foyer commemorating the event. However, 'National Theatre' is still more commonly used.

Why are the three theatres within the National named as they are?

The Olivier Theatre is named after the National's first Director (1962 until 1973), the late Lord Olivier, then Sir Laurence Olivier (made Baron 1970); and the Lyttelton after the National's first Chairman (1962 until 1971), Oliver Lyttelton (the late Lord Chandos). The third, studio theatre, was named after the late Lord Cottesloe, first Chairman (1962 until 1977) of the South Bank Theatre Board, which was responsible for the building of the National Theatre; following the NT Future redevelopment, it reopened in 2014 as the Dorfman Theatre, named after Lloyd Dorfman CBE, Founder and Chairman of Travelex and a member of the NT Board, in recognition of his personal £10 million philanthropic gift. The three theatres contain, in all, nearly 2,500 seats.

Who has been Director of the National Theatre?

Lord Olivier OM was Director from 1963 to 1973, succeeded by Sir Peter Hall CBE until 1988; Sir Richard Eyre was Director from 1988 until 1997. Sir Trevor Nunn was Director from 1997 to 2003, and was succeeded by Nicholas Hytner from April 2003 to 2015. Our current Director is Rufus Norris.

Who have held the position of Chairman of the National Theatre?

The first Chairman was Oliver Lyttelton (the late Lord Chandos) from 1962 to 1971. He was succeeded as Chairman by Sir Max (later Lord) Rayne in 1971, who served until 1988. The Lady Soames DBE was the third Chairman of the National from 1988 until 1995. Sir Christopher Hogg became Chairman in August 1995; he was succeeded by Sir Hayden Phillips GCB in 2005. John Makinson became Chairman in November 2010. Sir Damon Buffini became Chair in June 2016.

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Charitable status

NT projects

NT Future was an £80million redevelopment programme between 2012 and 2015 which transformed the facilities we offer audiences and artists.  The money raised was used to facilitate the following developments:

  • Give audiences the chance to learn, explore and discover in the new Clore Learning Centre.

  • Provide facilities for artists, designers and theatre-makers in the new Max Rayne Centre.

  • Offer more flexibility and comfort in the new Dorfman Theatre (previously the Cottesloe).

  • Allow audiences to see how theatre is made from the new Sherling High-Level Walkway.

  • Improve signage and access with the new Sackler Pavilion entrance.

  • Provide comfortable and attractive cafés and bars on the river front.

  • Create a public garden and reduce energy consumption.

  • Develop the Wolfson Gallery exhibition space on the Olivier Theatre Cloakroom level.

  • Maintain our world-leading capability by renewing 1970s equipment and infrastructure.

  • Expand our in-house digital facilities for pioneering innovations such as NT Live broadcasts.

  • Provide on-site access to our digital archive collections.

  • Improve services and facilities to make our work truly accessible.

The Audience Appeal for NT Future has now finished, following overwhelming support from our community - but we still need your donations. Every penny contributes directly towards our mission to make the very best theatre and share it with as many people as possible.

If you still have unanswered questions, please contact us


Working at the National Theatre

Current vacancies are advertised on the careers page on our website.

If you are over 18, please check the list of departments that offer work placements at the NT, email your CV and covering letter to [email protected], for the attention of one of the departments, making your request as specific to that department as possible. You will then be sent a question sheet to tell us in more detail what you are looking for from your placement. Once this is returned your application will be passed on to the relevant department for consideration. The NT only offers work placements to people over the age of 18.

Work Placements for over 18s are offered in a number of different departments:

· NT Archive (two weeks)

· Catering (one to three weeks)

· Commercial Operations (one or two weeks)

· Scenic Construction (two to four weeks)

· Scenic Painting (two weeks)

· Costume & Wardrobe (one to six weeks)

· Development Department (Fundraising) (one or two weeks)

· Director’s Office (one week)

· Digital Media

· Hair & Make-up (one week)

· Learning Department (Education) (two to ten weeks)

· Production Department (two to ten weeks)

· Stage Department (two to four weeks)

· Lighting Department (two to four weeks)

· Sound Department (two to four weeks)

The NT is unable to offer placements in Acting, Directing, or Design.

The duration of work placements can vary in different departments, lasting between one to ten weeks. Work placements are usually aimed at those in higher education on the second or third year of a relevant course. Please allow at least two months notice to arrange a placement.

If you still have unanswered questions, please contact us