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National Theatre Blog

Do you remember the first time?

A production photo from Treasure Island, available through our On Demand. In Schools service.


There’s nothing quite like the first time you see a play. That’s part of the thinking behind our On Demand. In Schools programme, a free service that offers every school in the country the opportunity to show National Theatre productions in the classroom and gives every child the opportunity to experience the magic of theatre.

To celebrate On Demand. In Schools, we asked members of the current company about the first play they ever saw and the effect it had on them.


Hope Davis (The Red Barn)

I grew up just outside New York City and I remember my whole family climbing into the car one Saturday morning when I was about 14. We were taking the day off from chores and errands to see a matinee of The Fantasticks, a long-running musical. The theatre was tiny. The set was bare bones simple. The story, about kids growing up and falling in love, cast such a spell over me, that when it ended, and small squares of coloured paper rained down over the small cast and audience, I scrambled to the floor and gathered up all that I could. I put them in a box of keepsakes at home. I have them still. 


Anna Skellern (The Red Barn)

The first play I can remember seeing was a school trip to see Molière's Tartuffe at the Sydney Opera House. It was a hilarious production with people jumping up the walls and insane lighting. It completely changed the way I thought of theatre: that it could be fun and crazy and also incredibly moving at the same time. I realised that the ways to put on a play were as endless as someone's imagination. 


Lucian Msamati (Amadeus)

The first play I remember seeing was at primary school in Zimbabwe. It was a Friday and there were about three or four actors. I can't recall the title but there were a couple of sketches and then they did the main play which was basically about staying in school and getting a good education.

The most profound memory I have of it was laughing, hard. A hall full of schoolkids laughing hysterically. At the time I didn't realize that what was really clicking with me was the timing of the performers. They were so skilled and sharp and landed absolutely every word, gag and then got us to sing the song at the end. It was my first and perhaps most precious memory of performing: that anything was possible and that from the simplest things magic could be made.


Stuart Milligan (The Red Barn)

I think one of the first plays I saw was at Elitch Gardens Theatre in Denver Colorado. I was in elementary school, so I must have been about seven or eight. It was a touring production of The Fantasticks, which is a musical that ran on Broadway for years. I remember how free the actors were in front of the audience, playing off of the laughs and inviting us into their world. The costumes and staging were ingenious, with huge stage trunks becoming tables, costume rails becoming forests and chairs being built up to create a wall. The pace of the show was really fast and the staging was precise. I remember thinking, ‘How do you get to do something like that? What do you have to learn to become those people on that stage?’ Funny, I still remember that show.


David Tarkenter (The Red Barn)

The first play I ever saw was Mother Goose in Batley, West Yorkshire. I was four years old and somehow found myself on stage singing ‘Little Arrows’ during the audience participation bit. Now Batley was very cold that Christmas and my mother had made sure we were wrapped up well, so I was wearing a very thick woolly jumper. Once the song started, complete with energetic actions, I became very warm indeed so the effect it had on me was to make me sweat profusely. The comic actor leading the sing along then asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied, ‘a fireman’. He said ‘Well, you certainly look hot enough.’ I was mortified and vowed never to appear on a stage again. Six years later, I changed my mind...


Michael Elwyn (The Red Barn)

First play I remember seeing was Antony and Cleopatra at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was 1953. I was ten. I have kept alive in my memory the opening when Michael Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft came down a flight of steps, locked in each other's arms, and she said 'If it be love indeed, tell me how much?' I don't know if they were brilliant, good, adequate or bad. I just know I was hooked by the wonderful Shakespearean passion, poetry and theatricality. And from then on, my desire to be an actor grew and grew.


Lennox Greaves (The Red Barn)

First show I remember seeing was a local amateur dramatic society production of Oklahoma!. I must have been about nine or ten. I remember the lights and the music and found it all incredibly exciting. Fell madly in love with the leading lady Joan Fisher – still remember the name – who was probably in her 40s.



Today, on Giving Tuesday, we thought we’d ask for your help to give more children access to their first theatre performance. The National Theatre is a charitably funded organisation, you can help support On Demand. In Schools and make sure every child has the opportunity to experience theatre. To learn more and donate, click here.

Alternatively, text ODIS16 £10 to 70070 to donate to The National Theatre and make a difference today.