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National Theatre Blog

40 Years of June Watson at the National Theatre

Over the course of 40 years, June Watson has performed on every single one of our stages in a variety of roles. She shared some of her memories of productions old and new with us, including a few... interesting stories.

You can currently see June in the Dorfman Theatre as Genevieve in John until 3 March.

Il Campiello (1976) 

Il Campiello-1976-PRO-2-Peggy Mount as Donna Pasqua,June Watson as Orsola,Patti Love as Lucietta,Andrew Bryatt as Zorzetto-John Haynes.tif


Photograph: John Haynes

I shouldn’t really talk about this but I think it’s a well known fact that Il Campiello was one of the biggest disasters the NT’s ever done.

There was going to be a gala performance in the Olivier Theatre that would be attended by the Queen, Prince Phillip, the entire Cabinet, high up officials in the church, every director in the land and every actor that has ever performed at the NT. THAT was the audience.

Lawrence Olivier made a speech before we went on that was 45 minutes long and was so wonderful we should have all just gone straight to the after show party after that.

The problem was that the Queen’s not a great lover of the theatre so they decided to do something light. So they chose this little Italian play which is usually performed in a little Italian theatre. Not a massive one like the Olivier. It was the wrong play. It was badly translated. It was not funny. And it was supposed to be funny.

At the party afterwards the queen was very polite but not very enthusiastic. Phillip certainly wasn’t enthusiastic. People that one knew turned away when you went near them, it was that bad. That was a terrible night. The following night we opened to the press and of course we were all so depressed. The press massacred it. I think it’s commonly known as one of the biggest flops


The Beggar's Opera (1982)

Photograph: John Haynes

Richard Eyre was looking for a Mrs Peachum. He said he knew I could play the part but could I sing it? Well I’m not a singer. There happened to be a musical director that lived at the bottom of my garden. (In a house, not just in my garden.) So I went to see him and all he did was go up and down the scales on the piano and he said ‘you hit the notes, you’re not tone deaf’ and the Head of Music at the NT said the same thing. But when I arrived on the first day I was surrounded by singers. Paul Jones, Imelda Staunton, EVERYBODY was a proper singer. So that was terrifying. But it ran for 18 months and was very successful - so for someone that can’t sing that wasn’t bad!


Small Change (1983)


Photograph: John Haynes

I first performed Small Change in 1975 at the Royal Court and it was the first really big thing I’d done in London. It was a new play by Peter Gill who wrote and directed it. It then went to the NT 10 years later in ’83 and was a huge success. It was a definite highlight of my career.  James Hazeldine on my right in that photo unfortunately died in his 50s. I’m still in touch with the others that were in that cast.  

Billy Liar (1992)

Photograph: John Haynes

 This was an Education/Learning tour around schools and was when Sonia Friedman used to work in that department at the NT. I played Billy’s mother. Paul Wyatt and Sally Rogers met on that production and got married she has just gone to New York with the Hangmen.


Rutherford and Son (1994) 

Photograph: Neil Libbert

That was directed by Katie Mitchell and had a great cast. I was the Aunt.

During a scene I was cutting a loaf of bread, I must have had my thumb at a funny angle on the bread and I just quietly sawed through my thumb until I got to the bone, and then I realised. There was blood absolutely everywhere. I carried on until the end of the scene and went off stage in the interval and my thumb was hanging on by a thread. I was rushed straight to the hospital in a taxi during the performance. We didn’t have any understudies so they just had to do the rest of the play without me!


Our Lady of Sligo (1998) 

Our Lady of Sligo-1998-PRO-7-Sinead Cusack as Mai O'Hara,June Watson as Maria-John Haynes.tif

Photograph: John Haynes


We toured it first and then brought it to the NT. We used to drink a lot on tour we had a lot of fun. It was a very happy production. 


June is currently performing the role of Genevieve in John until 3 March.

More info and book tickets here