Book Description

54 programmes, incl. The Royal Coburg Theatre 1818 to the Old Vic 1968/ A history of 150 years of the Old Vic (1968), and with: four National Theatre at the New Theatre programmes (one repeat). Side-stapled booklets, measuring 22.8 x 13.2cm, with colour and b/w advertisements, b/w and/or colour illustrations throughout. Original illustrated colour card wrappers, 38 with cast lists laid in. Not a consecutive nor complete collection, but featuring numerous high spots in the NT’s first fifteen years, with its first decade, and the work of celebrated modernist graphic designer Ken Briggs, best represented and programmes becoming sparser from 1974. The majority in very good order, edgewear and shelf-soiling, some fading and blotching. Internally, some fading and toning, occasional rusty staples, else clean and bright. Featuring both the original light blue and later grey cast lists: occasional underlining and starring; cast list extracts pasted into Hedda Gabler and Eden End programmes. A wonderful collection of the NT’s vibrant, stylish and informative programmes, which Briggs created to “fit comfortably in a gentleman’s inside dinner jacket or a lady’s handbag” (Muggeridge, 2014). Unusual and striking. For the full list of titles please get in touch.
Dealer Notes
This collection of “sumptuous new programmes,” which both reflected and helped forge the National Theatre’s identity and brand, bear the “strikingly modern typographic font – very Sixties” (Simon Callow, 1997), which was the work of the great modernist graphic designer Ken Briggs (1931-2013) and his associates, including Sue Chennells. Briggs and team produced posters, programmes and leaflets for much of the period represented here; the collection also just captures the shift, towards the end of the 1970s, to the leadership of another eminent theatrical graphic designer, Richard “Dickie” Bird, who became the resident head of graphics at the NT’s new South Bank home. The programmes, which “fit the hand perfectly [...] remain a tactile experience,” featuring art paper, rough coloured stock, tracing and glassine papers (Esterson, 2005).
Design-wise, the Swiss modernist minimalism of the early programmes (see Hamlet (1963), The Recruiting Officer (1963) and Hobson’s Choice (1964)) crescendos into the highly innovative creations of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with their bold, clashing colour combinations and incorporation of pop cultural influences: for example, the cover of Tony Harrison’s translation of The Misanthrope (1973), the centre fold-out cartoon-strip used for The Travails of Sancho Panza (1969) and Triple Bill (1968), uniting John Lennon with Henry Fielding and John Maddison Morton. Performance-wise, highlights include: Franco Zeffirelli’s Much Ado About Nothing with Maggie Smith and Ian McKellen (1965), Clifford Williams’ all-male production of As You Like It (1967), Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (1967) and Jumpers, featuring Diana Rigg (1972), plus, more problematically, Laurence Olivier’s celebrated performance as Othello (1964), including a postcard of Angus McBean’s studio portrait of the actor in black-face laid in. Content-wise, each programme is a novel explosion of visual and textual information, showing “a masterful handling of production stills and archive material” plus essays, extracts and timelines (Esterson, 2005).
The collection, moreover, speaks to the struggle of Laurence Olivier and the company to locate, fund and build a bespoke theatrical home. In 1962 The Old Vic Theatre Company had been dissolved and reconfigured as the National Theatre Company, whose first performance was Hamlet on 22 October 1963 (the first programme is represented here). The company remained at the Old Vic (though also moonlighted at the New Theatre: see the four programmes here) until its new South Bank buildings were opened in February 1976. This collection of NT programmes (dating 1963-1978), then, reflects this transitory period, with content calling audience attention to the company’s struggle, as well as offering a fascinating glimpse into British advertising history and the anticipated tastes of audiences: Benson and Hedges and Dunhill International feature beside Hermès perfume, Royal Dalton, Guinness and Queen Anne Scotch.
Finally, the collection speaks to Olivier’s aims for his new national theatrical institution: cutting edge productions interlaced with Shakespearean and classic revivals, performed by an international company. According to Simon Callow, the NT of this period “very much mirrored Larry himself,” who “brought a quality to the theatre, both in its artistic output and its style, that can best be described as sexinesss, making the stage both magnetic and incandescent, what the works lacked in gravitas or intellectual toughness, it usually made up for in flair and immediacy – in communication.” The same can be said for these programmes, which show flair and immediacy, a theatrical vision for the times, and no shortage of drama.
Author THE NATIONAL THEATRE; [BRIGGS, Kenneth; CHENNELLS, Susan and BIRD, Richard (graphic designers)]
Date 1963-1978
Publisher London: National Theatre
Condition Very good

Price: £450.00

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