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The National Theatre Magazine is edited by Claire Heaney and Sarah Woods


The NT enjoyed a fruitful end to 2017, with the news that Beginning, which had its premiere in the Dorfman in October, would be moving to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End from early 2018. We also celebrated successes at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards and no fewer than 18 nominations in the audience-led WhatsOnStage Awards. 


It was with great sadness that we learnt in September of the passing of former Director of the NT Peter Hall, a titan of world theatre. This month’s National Theatre Magazine pays tribute to just some of his directorial milestones at the National Theatre, as well as showcasing the landmark work that continues his legacy to this day. Douglas Henshall, currently playing Max Schumacher in Ivo van Hove’s production of Network, spoke to us about the intricacies of this extraordinary mixed-medium piece. Martin Lowe, Musical Director of Pinocchio, relates the journey of the music of Disney to the Lyttelton stage, and Emily Lim, inaugural recipient of the Peter Hall Director Award in 2016, talks to us about her work in community theatre.



Douglas Henshall’s New Medium
The Network actor talks to Jessie Anand about the intricacies of the new play, which brings television, and film, to the theatre.

Community Theatre in the Olivier with Emily Lim
The Peter Hall Award-winner discusses participatory theatre and a unique project in the Olivier Theatre. 

Remembering Peter Hall at the NT, 1973 – 1988 
We take this opportunity to pay tribute to just a few of Sir Peter Hall's achievements whilst at the helm of the company. 

Poster People
We take a closer look at National Theatre Posters: A Graphic Design History from 1963 to 2017, currently in the Wolfson Gallery.

‘No Strings To Hold Me Down’: The Music of Pinocchio
Martin Lowe speaks to Frances Bridge about adapting the music of Disney for the National Theatre’s new production of Pinocchio.

Bryan Cranston and Douglas Henshall in Network

Douglas Henshall’s New Medium 

Jessie Anand
Development Events Coordinator

After 15 years away, Douglas Henshall returns to the National Theatre for Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of the 1976 film by Paddy Chayefsky. Jessie Anand met with him just before opening night to find out about working with Ivo van Hove and returning to the stage after six years away.

The calls to stage are crackling over the intercom in Douglas Henshall’s dressing room. They are near-constant: Network is deep into previews, relying on a cast of 21, a crew of 22 and an additional restaurant staff of 11 to bring the show together for opening night. A few days before Henshall is restless and self-effacing, as director Ivo van Hove and his team make the final tweaks before the curtain comes up on this staggeringly ambitious show, but his grit and engagement with the project are clear. It must be strangely resonant to play a show about ratings to standing ovations and full houses, but Henshall is not counting his chickens just yet: ‘The audience reaction has been very encouraging,’ he says, reservedly.

As Max Schumacher, Henshall plays Network’s ostensibly most appealing character: concerned (and perhaps misguided) friend to Bryan Cranston’s Howard Beale; beleaguered (and perhaps misguided) lover to Michelle Dockery’s Diana Christiansen. Henshall doesn’t lose his sense of critical detachment in inhabiting the character: ‘Max Schumacher is probably the most moral character in it, and he’s having an affair and cheating on his wife!

‘The characters are innately unlikeable but I think all of them are incredibly sympathetic; all of them are looking for love in some way, shape or form. And that’s what’s kind of tragic about them. Every single one of those people is supposedly ruthless but underneath the surface I think they’re all very vulnerable.’

‘There’s a lot of theatre going on now that’s actually challenging people to think a little bit more.’

On stage, however, Network becomes bigger than any or all of its characters: both the technical wizardry and the audience themselves make huge contributions to the show, including audience members on stage. ‘It’s not as weird as I thought it would be,’ says Henshall. ‘You can’t really afford as an actor to be intimidated by people, regardless of how close or far away they are.’ In an NT first, Network sees an on-stage restaurant designed as part of the set by Jan Versweyveld, as well as a bespoke three-course menu created by the NT’s catering operation. The audience are profoundly close. When a sex scene takes place at a table in the restaurant, it is difficult not to steal a glance at the reactions of the neighbouring diners – who have fortunately finished their desserts.

The production also makes remarkable use of video, with specialist camera operators positioned on stage to capture the action, shown on the large screen at the back of the stage and intercut with pre-recorded video designed by Tal Yarden. At one point Henshall and Dockery dart outside the building and film a scene in front of the Green Room restaurant, which is broadcast live into the auditorium. The camera follows them as they walk past the BFI and into the National Theatre itself, cutting out at the very moment that they enter stage left (to murmurs of surprise from the audience) and sit down to a dinner date.

Henshall, like the rest of the principal cast, has extensive experience of screen acting! But acting to a camera on stage is a different proposition. ‘You’re having to project a little bit more on the stage, and that’s slightly detrimental to camera – I don’t want to have my big face looking stupid on a screen!’

It’s been six years since Henshall’s last stage role. ‘It’s unfortunate living in London, it boils down to money most of the time. If I could afford to do more theatre then I would. I really like live performance; there’s nothing like it. That’s where I started.’

He is animated when talking about the decision to take the job and its tale on the age of mass communication. ‘I was a big fan of the film, and the film is very theatrical. The idea of somebody doing that on stage is really interesting. I think of all the mediums – radio, television, film and theatre – theatre’s always been a place to reflect what’s going on in the world, and present a talking point. And then Thatcher kind of killed that with funding being cut… But what’s good is that it seems to be surging again. There’s a lot of theatre going on now that’s actually challenging people to think a little bit more about what’s being done to all of us, and hopefully it’ll encourage people to come into the theatre to hear more stuff that you don’t hear in many other places. Television is pretty dire now, and I say that as someone who’s on it quite a lot!’

‘Max Schumacher is probably the most moral character in it, and he’s having an affair and cheating on his wife!’



He’s particularly happy to be back at the National Theatre, having performed here as real-life Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia in 2002. ‘I had such a nice time working here,’ he says. He certainly spent enough time here to get to know the place; the production was an epic trilogy running at 12 hours including meal breaks. ‘I really like the building, I really like the people that work here – the actors, everybody else – people are friendly, it’s welcoming, it feels like a good place to be, and so I was really looking forward to coming to work here again.’

And then of course there was the draw of Ivo van Hove. The Belgian director has been hot property in UK theatre since his acclaimed Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge in 2014. Since then, the great and the good have been queueing up to work with him: he has directed stars from Juliette Binoche and Saoirse Ronan to home-grown talent like Jude Law and Sophie Okonedo. Van Hove keeps up an air of mystery with the cast, with a process quite unlike other directors. ‘In rehearsals we worked from 11 o’clock until 4 o’clock, with a half-hour lunch break. That’s how long you can hold your concentration for and work at a very good level, without getting tired or sluggish. So, when we were in rehearsals, it was just focused on work all the time, no idle chit-chat – you don’t really have to go “Can I ask you a question: why did you decide…?”’.

Even before Van Hove’s treatment, Paddy Chayefsky’s depiction of a network falling prey to tabloid sensationalism is eerily prescient in the era of fake news. What seems to give Henshall most cause for alarm is the vision of a world falling apart, devoid of all unifying forces except economics. He quotes a speech towards the end of the play:

‘There are no nations. There are no peoples. […] There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and AT&T and Ford and General Electric, Union Carbide, Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today, but they are not entities like the nation state – they don’t actually exist – where is Coca Cola – it is a notion – what exists is the primordial movements of capital.’

This evidently strikes a chord. ‘People start saying that now and you think “Oh my God”, but these words are nearly 50 years old. It’s terrifying. It’s terrifying that it sounds new.’

He is picky over the use of the term ‘relevant’ being floated to describe the play, because the characters, he says, are precisely the opposite. ‘It’s not about their relevance, it’s the battles they’re having which are still relevant.’ He sympathises with his own character and Cranston’s here: ‘I think it’s difficult for both of them because they’re basically men who are coming towards the end of their sell-by date. You always get shuffled out of the door before you’re ready, and I think that’s what’s happened to both of them, you know – they’re trying to be relevant but they’re not, because they don’t understand anymore.’

Douglas Henshall himself remains firmly within his sell-by date, but for this production he too – like Howard Beale and Max Schumacher – is having to adapt to new ways of doing things to remain in the game. ‘I suppose with this show I’ve got used to…everything’s normal.  It’s not like anything I’ve ever done before, but by now it’s just…everything is normal.’

Network | Behind The Scenes

We spoke to some of the team behind Network, now playing in the Lyttelton Theatre.

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Network | Meet the Cast

Meet the cast of Network, now playing in the Lyttelton Theatre.

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Network Production Images

Emily Lim

Community Theatre in the Olivier with Emily Lim

Sarah Brener
Freelance Writer

August 2018 will see a unique collaboration between the National Theatre and a variety of London-based community groups, with a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles as part of the NT’s new Public Acts initiative. Overseeing the task of bringing together professional actors and a large community ensemble is 31-year-old resident director Emily Lim, the recipient of the inaugural Peter Hall Award in 2016.

Emily Lim had worked primarily in community theatre settings before being invited to attend the NT Studio’s directing course in 2013. From there, she assisted Rufus Norris as his Staff Director on Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Everyman while also developing Brainstorm for the Temporary Theatre. A community parallel project attached to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire led to her involvement as Senior Associate Director on we’re here because we’re here, devised by Jermey Deller with Rufus Norris. She is currently in residency for two years, focusing particularly on her interest in community theatre.

‘[Community work] has never before been given the status, profile, time and resource which it is being given now.’

‘The idea of theatres being places to serve communities is at the heart of Rufus’ vision for the National and so the synergy between what I do and what he is hoping to grow during his time here feels really rich and exciting.My residency is an invitation to develop my own practice and to develop the broader thinking around community work within this building and where it sits within the main programme.

we’re here because we’re here was a huge logistical. It was my job to understand the vision of Jeremy Deller, who devised the piece, and roll it out in a way that was consistent and achievable. Jeremy knew that he wanted thousands of men to be in very specific locations. He didn’t want them to speak but wanted them to move in a stylised way. Through a series of workshops and practical exploration days, we explored what this physical language would be and how we would structure the routes and research them with the stage management teams we were working with.’

In her words, the community partner organisations which will be involved in Pericles ‘create a palette of people who represent the diversity of London.’ They include the Bromley by Bow Centre in East London, which helps transform the lives of thousands of people in Easy London through providing a range of integrated services. Open Age, based in West London, champions a  a full life for older people, while Body & Soul in Islington is dedicated to transforming the impact of adverse childhood experiences. They will be joined by Coram, which has been supporting vulnerable children in the UK for almost three centuries, and Havering Asian Social Welfare Association, which runs a wide-ranging programme to improve the wellbeing of the Asian and wider community in its local area. The two other organisations involved in Pericles are 3FF, which works to build good relations between people of different faiths, and Thames Reach, a charity which helps homeless and vulnerable people to find and sustain themselves in accommodation. While all of these organisations are London-based and are involved in two-year relationships with the NT, it is very much the National’s intention to run the Public Acts initiative nationwide in the future.

‘[Community work] has never before been given the status, profile, time and resource which it is being given now.’

With her considerable experience in community theatre, Lim is acutely aware of the many challenges that lie ahead – not that she sees them as such.

‘I don’t see it as a challenge to work with non-professional performers because it is what I love doing and it is the work that most excites me. We are putting a huge amount of time into developing a holistic approach for this project so that we can build a space that is safe for people, where they can experience new encounters that are creative, transformative and joyful. Many of the people I work with don’t have the space to express themselves or the right to express elsewhere in other parts of their lives.

‘Having said all of that, there are many practical challenges. People are juggling jobs, children and the chaos, struggles and joys of daily life before coming to a rehearsal in the evening. Therefore we have to create rehearsal schedules that fit around people’s lives. We have to work in a way that is truly inclusive so that everybody can be involved, and get rid of the obstacles that could prevent people from giving their time. This means rehearsing in the evenings, finding solutions for childcare and transport issues, and so on. So far, we haven’t found it difficult to get people on board because they have been so excited.

‘With Pericles, we are reaching out to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to this kind of work. This is why we have built this project around radial partnerships. We are relying on our partners’ expertise and experience of working within their communities for our recruitment. When we were choosing who were the right people to form partnerships with, we had a set of detailed criteria but one of the main things was not reaching out to people who are inundated with opportunities to link up with exciting arts organisations. We wanted to reach out to people who didn’t have these opportunities but where it was thought that this would be a very vibrant and exciting intervention.’

While Pericles may not perhaps be the first Shakespeare play that springs to mind for many people, Lim believes that it will resonate with a wide and diverse audience, as represented by the performers on stage.

‘It is a story that encompasses the highs and lows of life in a way that everybody can hopefully relate to. We thought it would be very exciting to take a big piece and to reinvent it through the lens of this project and deliver it with a very different company. It feels very exciting to take something that is so iconic and put it in the hands of people who have never made theatre together before and see what this does to it.

‘We have commissioned Chris Bush who is a brilliant writer with a lot of experience writing for the amazing Sheffield People’s Theatre programme at the Crucible. She is rendering a new version of Pericles which will hopefully communicate a huge, epic, big-hearted tale of love, loss, family and home. The story will be revitalised by this amazing and extraordinary huge company of people who are coming together for the first time.’

Pericles is scheduled for the August bank holiday weekend in 2018, when there will be three performances. A total company of about 200 people will be involved, the majority recruited from the community partner organisations supported by a small corps of professional musicians and actors.

'This project embodies the intention of the NT to act as a force of community action through the creation of artistically excellent, inclusive work, and to be a building that really is for everybody. We hope it will be a powerful celebration of community, and a joyful, heartfelt, brilliant show. It will be something that has never happened before at the NT.’ 

National Theatre Platform: 'we're here because we're here'

‘we’re here because we’re here’ saw over 1400 volunteers dressed in WWI uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

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Peter Hall rehearsing The Importance of Being Earnest

Remembering Peter Hall at the NT, 1973 - 1988


Sarah Woods
Memberships Manager

‘For this moment, we must be grateful for the timing and the durable cladding of Mr Peter Hall’s foot when he put it in the door.’ - Laurence Olivier, speech at the opening the Olivier, and the National Theatre, 25 October 1976

 ‘To finish a theatre it is first necessary to open it’ Peter Stevens, General Administrator of the National Theatre advised Peter Hall in 1976. Hall took him at his word. Through architect Denys Lasdun’s building and the company of actors that had been founded 13 years earlier at the Old Vic, Hall spirited together the organisation as it exists today.

Productions directed or co-directed by Hall accounted for one-sixth of all Olivier and Lyttelton performances in the first seven years on the South Bank. The breadth of his interest in writers, actors and music typified the NT’s commitment to classical pieces, canonical works and new contemporary talent; debate and the possibility of controversy were to be embraced in the programming of old and new. In tribute to his contribution to the National Theatre, we highlight here just some of his directorial achievements on the South Bank.

Peter Hall in conversation with Nicholas Hytner

Peter Hall (Artistic Director of the National Theatre, 1973-1988) reflects on his career, directing the original English-language production of Waiting for Godot, working with Harold Pinter and staging Shakespeare.

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'The Oresteia' (1981): From Epidaurus to the Olivier

In this film, Professor Oliver Taplin discusses the staging of the 1981 production of Aeschylus' The Oresteia, directed by Peter Hall and performed in both the Olivier Theatre in London and at Epidaurus in Greece.

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Productions directed by Peter Hall at the National Theatre

1969 - Construction begins on the South Bank

1973 - Hall becomes Director of the National Theatre

1973 - The Tempest

1974 - Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

1975 - Premiere of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson

1975 - Judgement by Barry Collins

1976 - March - Lyttelton Theatre opens with Hamlet

1976 - October - Olivier Theatre opens with Tambulaine the Great

1976 - 25 October - HM Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip attend and officially open the National Theatre

1977 - April - Cottesloe Theatre opens

1977 - Peter Hall knighted

1977 - Bedroom Farce by Alan Ayckbourn

1977 - Volpone by Ben Jonson

1977 - The Country Wife by William Wycherley

1978 - The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

1978 - Premiere of Harold Pinter's Betrayal

1978 - Macbeth

1979 - World premiere of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus with Paul Scofield and Simon Callow

1980 - Othello

1981 - The Oresteia

1982 - The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

1982 - World premiere of Harold Pinter's Other Places

1983 - Jean Seberg by Adler, Barry and Hamlisch

1984 - Foundation of the National Theatre Studio adjacent to the Old Vic

1984 - Animal Farm adapted and directed by Hall

1984 - Coriolanus with Ian McKellen

1985 - World premiere of Yonadab by Peter Shaffer

1986 - The Petition by Brian Clark

1986 - World premiere of Coming In To Land by Stephen Poliakoff

1987 - Anthony and Cleopatra with Judy Dench and Anthony Hopkins

1987 - Entertaining Strangers by David Edgar

1988 - Cymbeline

1988 - The Winter's Tale

1988 - The Tempest

1988 - Hall is succeeded as Director of the NT by Richard Eyre

2002 - The Bacchai

2011 - Hall's final NT production, Twelfth Night, with daughter Rebecca Hall as Viola



National Theatre Posters: A Graphic Design History

Poster People

Kayla Marks
Donor Services Coordinator

The Wolfson Gallery is currently playing host to an exhibition chronicling the evolution of the posters of the National Theatre, from the Old Vic to our most recent productions. Curated by Rick Poynor, Professor of Design and Visual Culture at the University of Reading, the exhibition traces the work of each art director in the NT’s history and the pendulum-like swing of trends, from order to chaos and back again, represented in their works. Kayla Marks looks in more detail at one iconic image from each director.

Ken Briggs, from 1963 – 1974
Hedda Gabler (1970)

Briggs’ most enduring design choice was the Helvetica font still in use today. Briggs has a distinct visual format; the type is organised strictly, with the theatre name, author, and title placed the same way across most of his later posters, including this Hedda Gabler design. Briggs used the progressive style of the day to organise necessary information and create an easily identified house style – it looks almost like a Penguin paperback from the 60s.

Some early NT posters used rehearsal images, but Briggs and his generation of designers were very taken by the graphic and typographic work emerging from Switzerland. This example uses posterisation, a newly developed technique that breaks down this image of Maggie Smith’s face into highlights. This look, found in the celebrated Swiss posters of the time, shows that the NT was truly at the cutting edge of graphic design, and is something that would inspire later design directors.

Richard Bird, 1975 – 1986
Volpone (1977)

Briggs’ successor Richard Bird moved away from strict forms of organisation. Bird’s distinct touch was his typography. He chose images that varied wildly, from detailed illustration to simple photography, whilst stepping away from using Helvetica and towards bold fonts that reflected the feel of the production and knitted together with the image. He was also happy to use stock imagery, something that designers now increasingly avoid. In this poster for Volpone, Bird repurposed a medieval illustration, and updated it with brilliant colours and a pixellated outline. The flourish on the title, echoing the lolling tongue of the beast, is far from Briggs’ restrained poster above. Note the inclusion of the full company list, which used to be commonplace, but which Briggs had eventually dispensed with in his pared down style. During Bird’s time the NT logo appeared in the top left corner, where it remained for years.

Michael Mayhew, 1976 – 2009
Paul (2005)

Mayhew experimented with different styles during his tenure, but by the early 2000s, posters regained an organised format, under both Nicholas Hytner and Mayhew’s direction. Mayhew used a set of rules to create a visual house style, much like Briggs, but allowed the brightly coloured Helvetica titles to roam about the page. For several years all images were monochrome, sometimes focusing on star billings, but more often featuring intense and almost symbolic black and white pictures, as in this poster for Paul. Mayhew himself was a photographer, and preferred photography over the image creation that Bird enjoyed. Stock images were frequently used, although this example is based on a photograph by Larry Towell from his collection Gaza City (credited by Mayhew), and evokes a sense of the plot, Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, rather than giving a more literal representation of the production.

Charlotte Wilkinson, 2004 – 2014
Season’s Greetings (2010)

Originally Charlotte Wilkinson worked as Mayhew’s assistant. On becoming Art Director, she brought a distinct approach to poster design, moving away from the monochrome image and bright typography combination. Photography was commissioned and strictly controlled by designers under Wilkinson’s direction, creating bespoke images. Wilkinson’s background as an art director contributed to her approach to designs like this image for Season’s Greetings, with recognisable faces including Catherine Tate and Mark Gatiss, taken on location at a house in Wimbledon. This is not a rehearsal shot, but rather a styled photoshoot that gives a sense of the dysfunctional family in the play. Under Wilkinson, lead actors graced the posters much more frequently. This period also showed a move towards hyperreality, with sharper and well-defined images, which Poyner links to the development of the NT’s online arm, as more and more customers engaged digitally.

Graphic Design Studio, 2014 onwards
Rules for Living (2015)

Currently the NT’s posters are produced by the Graphic Design Studio, helmed by Ollie Winser. All work is now signed by the Graphic Design Studio, a deliberate move away from the individual accreditations of previous tenures. The most recent posters in the exhibition showcase a range of talents from within the current team at the NT. A hallmark of the studio is new design, reflecting the production, and this includes bespoke constructions – the neon lights for the Angels in America poster were made by an independent artist and photographed in a studio. This poster, for Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living, shows a return to illustration. The figures on the poster draw on inspirations from aeroplane safety guides to IKEA furniture to the play itself.

The logo was changed during Wilkinson’s tenure, but Helvetica is still the default font for poster titles. If we compare this poster to the one for Hedda Gabler, we can see that Briggs’ format is still being reinvented. Each director has explored different stylistic approaches, but across the wealth of skills and styles we can see bigger swings in the ‘pendulum’ of design trends, with each designer tackling the concept of the National Theatre Poster uniquely. 

An accompanying book, National Theatre Posters: A Design History, is available from the NT Bookshop and online for the special price of £25

Bespoke art prints of National Theatre posters are available to order online, posting worldwide

Posters Exhibition | Behind the LOVE poster

We speak to Louise Richardson, Senior Graphic Designer in our Graphic Design Studio, about how she designed the poster for LOVE, which now features in our Posters Exhibition.

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Posters Exhibition | Behind The Deep Blue Sea Poster

We speak to Emilie Chen, Senior Designer in our Graphic Design Studio, about how she designed the poster for The Deep Blue Sea, which now features in our Posters Exhibition.

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Posters Exhibition | Which is the favourite?

We met with past Art Directors and the current Creative Director to hear about their favourite posters in the exhibition.

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Martin Lowe and Tom Brady in rehearsals for Pinocchio

'No Strings To Hold Me Down' The Music of Pinocchio


Frances Bridgewater

Individual Giving Manager

A man of many musical talents, Martin Lowe is responsible for the adaptation, orchestration and supervision of the Pinocchio score. During the final weeks of rehearsals, Frances Bridgewater caught up with him to find out what it is like working with some of Disney’s most famous repertoire.

‘After studying Music and Drama at the University of Hull, I became a rehearsal pianist and spent a lot of time with Cameron Mackintosh. I worked on Cats and Les Misérables for long periods during the 90s and with that learnt how to look after a big show. You didn’t need to make them work, you just needed to keep them going. Mamma Mia! was the first new musical that I conducted and that changed everything; after that I was offered more new shows and lots of workshops for jukebox musicals.

‘I’d write to Trevor Nunn every year begging him for a job, but through one of those workshops I met Richard Thomas, who was writing Jerry Springer – The Opera at the time. Nick Hytner, before we knew he was going to be Director of the NT, was a real fan and came to see every workshop of the show we did at Battersea Arts Centre. He brought the whole team of Jerry Springer to the National and kept using me after that – thank goodness for that show!’

Although Martin Lowe is bringing a wealth of experience to Pinocchio, his role in the musical aspects of the production is unlike anything he has worked on before. It is the first time he has worked on a production without having a composer to turn to. ‘The buck ends with me musically. I’m doing the musical adaptation of the score, taking the five songs from the movie and making them work with our show; I’m orchestrating the show and I’m the musical supervisor.’

Lowe has drawn on many influences in composing new music for this production, including Balkan, Austrian, Swiss and northern Italian folk music. ‘While I was working on a production of Jedermann (Everyman) at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, the musicians would play me Austrian folk music during rehearsal breaks. When I started to listen to the Disney score, although not necessarily the songs, it really reminded me of the music the band had played to me in Salzburg. I also looked specifically at northern Italian folk music and, during my research, discovered a woman who had dedicated her whole life to researching Swiss folk music.

‘I had more music than I knew what to do with.’

‘I had more music than I knew what to do with, so I auditioned every piece and kept whittling them down. I played them every day so that I remembered them and could pull them in quickly when writing. “I’ve Got No Strings”, for example, is a two-and-a-half-minute sequence in the film, and I was curious to see whether I could interpolate a folk song in the middle of it without destroying the Disney song. You will hear folk tunes in the underscore of the production, but you will also hear them in the middle of “I’ve Got No Strings” and “An Actor’s Life for Me”.

The idea of a stage adaptation of Pinocchio was first pitched to Disney back in 2014 and Lowe tested the idea of incorporating folk music with Disney early in the process. ‘“I’ve Got No Strings” was the first one that we tried. We put a sequence together during a workshop, we did it for them and they just went “Yes – do more of that!”

‘I believe that these songs stay in the ether for a reason; they are part of our collective consciousness.’

‘They were curious about whether we wanted to bring in another composer and we were convinced we didn’t. The five songs were so famous, and were so stuck in the period, that we didn’t know who could do that. And that was when I got the idea about folk music. I believe that these folksongs stay in the ether for a reason; they are part of our collective consciousness. And even if you don’t know them, when you hear them they sound vaguely familiar, in the same way that Disney songs often do.’

This production features all five songs from the Disney film: “I’ve Got No Strings”, “Give a Little Whistle”, “An Actor’s Life for Me”, “When You Wish Upon a Star” and, the one with the least screen time in the film, “Little Wooden Head”. ‘You only hear a fragment of it near the beginning, it is Geppetto’s song, but they exploit the tune of that all through the movie in the underscore.’ Disney also gave Lowe access to the entire score of the movie, including the original handwritten manuscripts and all the songs cut from the show, which can also be heard in the underscore.

Music has been integral to a number of recent NT productions, including the 21-piece orchestra for Follies and the choral mic-drop moments scattered throughout Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour in the Dorfman (for which Lowe was the Music Arranger and Supervisor). But what opportunities and challenges does the Lyttelton bring?

‘I like the Lyttelton because, even though there is no orchestra pit, you can make one quite convincingly by bringing the stage lift down. I always wanted to do Pinocchio in the Lyttelton because I wanted it to feel like a traditional musical with the conductor at the front. And as there are not many songs, what we are often using the music for is to punctuate the visuals. For that, the conductor has got to be able to have eye contact.’

In addition to Lowe, Pinocchio is being brought to the stage by an outstanding team, including John Tiffany, director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and Dennis Kelly, the writer of Matilda the Musical. The production also reunites the team behind Once. ‘John Tiffany, Steven Hoggett, Bob Crowley and I worked together on Once on Broadway, and this (Pinocchio) came about after Disney came to see the show and loved it. They brought John in for a meeting and John, being a very loyal theatre-maker, wanted to keep his people together.’

And what continues to make their working relationship so successful? ‘John said it very elegantly the other day… we’re friends – Steven, John, Bob and I – but we still like to show off and we still want to impress each other. We are really ambitious and because we still have that drive in us it really works. You hear stories about people getting lazy because they are working with their friends, but it’s not like that at all. A compliment from John and Steven is the best thing in the world, and Bob is easy because he has no poker face. You only have to look at Bob’s face to tell whether he thinks it is working!’

Lowe explains that when it comes to incorporating the five songs from the Disney film, including what he describes as Disney’s ‘anthem’ – “When You Wish Upon a Star” – he feels that he has a responsibility to the audience to pace the songs throughout the show. So how has that played into the development of the production, particularly when Lowe has worked on musicals with 20-plus numbers?

‘At this point, talking before the production has opened, it is still an unknown. All I can say is that I have been desperate to make a show like Peter and the Wolf. I wanted to do a show that featured an orchestra, not necessarily with songs, but where there was music throughout. And the National has been amazing and given me a bigger orchestra than I could have ever dreamed of.’

Pinocchio | Wish Upon A Star

How do you work with one of the most famous Disney songs of all time?

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Pinocchio | Behind The Music

An interview with Martin Lowe, who has adapted the classic Disney songs for our production.

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Production Gallery

Rehearsal gallery

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The National Theatre strives for best practice in fundraising and is registered with the Fundraising Regulator We are transparent with our donors and supporters, ensuring that our fundraising is legal, open, honest and respectful.




Main image photo of Justine Mitchell by Uli Weber and Sam Troughton by Johan Persson

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For general ticket information

Browse the frequently asked questions for tickets