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The Aids Memorial

Theatre, As the actress said to the playwright

Par Sarah Crompton - 3 mn

These fascinating letters by leading players reveal the offstage dramas at the National Theatre

Dramatic Exchanges: The Lives and Letters of the National Theatre
Daniel Rosenthal
Profile Books, £25 , pp416

“What on earth do you expect me to say,” wrote Maggie Smith to Laurence Olivier on 2 November 1968, in her clear, rounded hand, underlining “earth” fiercely for emphasis. “I am absolutely heartbroken by your decision, but what can I do? You must know that I have now no chance at all to play the one part you” – underlined again – “have always told me I should.”
The part was Millamant in The Way of the World which Olivier had handed to Geraldine McEwan rather than to “Darling Mageen”. Her hurt and disappointment spring from the page, down the years.

Five years ago, Daniel Rosenthal wrote the official history of the National Theatre, a doorstop of a book that is impressive in its comprehensiveness but dismaying in its lack of colour. This companion volume, a collection of lette...