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Here are images from just a few of tonight’s performances. If you weren’t able to watch tonight, further international screenings of 50 Years on Stage take place in the coming weeks.

Find your nearest venue at http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/43033-50-years-on-stage

Watch on mslavenza.tumblr.com

ROS: Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?

GUlL: No. 

ROS: Nor do I, really… It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead… which should make a difference… shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air - you’d wake up dead, for a start and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That’s the bit I don’t like, frankly. That’s why I don’t think of it.

Because you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you? Stuffed in a box like that, I mean you’d be in there for ever. Even taking into account the fact that you’re dead, really… ask yourself, if! Asked you straight off - I’m going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead?Naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You’d have a chance at least. You could he there thinking - well, at least I’m not dead! In a minute someone’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. (Banging on the floor with his fists.) ‘Hey you, whatsyernaine! Come out of there!’

GUlL: (Jumps up savagely) You don’t have to flog it to death!

(Pause.)

ROS: I wouldn’t think about it, if! were you. You’d only get depressed. (Pause.) Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?

- Benedict Cumberbatch performing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead during 50 years on stage.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two fools in a world that is beyond their understanding. 

This fragment from act II, with Rosencrantz pondering the mysteries of chance, death and eternity, shows how they often state deep philosophical truths during their nonsensical ramblings, yet they depart from those ideas as quickly as they come to them. 

There’s a phisicality involved in the theatre, it’s about sustaining a narrative with mind and body. In this specific case, a terrific comic timing is required, too.
And Benedict has got this combination of cerebral and physical, and a clownery shelf that transparently shows up the drama of the character’s fate.

Behold the delightful poignancy of Cumberbatch’s performance, live on stage at National Theatre 50th Anniversary!

I bet he enjoyed taking part in it, and he’s eager to come back on stage - when possible and properly arranged, I mean - for far more than two minutes, as much as we are to see him there…

Benedict Cumberbatch has joined Andrew Scott in the star studded cast of 50 Years on Stage, a celebration of the half century anniversary of the National Theatre.

The event is performing a special preview evening on Friday November 1 2013, with a live broadcast on November 2 on BBC Two in the UK and in cinemas around the world.

Read more on the National Theatre website.

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National Theatre: 50 Years on stage rehearsals

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Mark your diary: this Saturday, 2 November at 9pm for a once-in-a-lifetime performance, 50 years on stage, broadcast live from the National Theatre to BBC Two.

From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to The History Boys, from Antony and Cleopatra to Angels in America, from Guys and Dolls to London Road – join us for a thrilling evening of live performance and rare glimpses from the archive, featuring many of the most celebrated actors who have performed on our stages over the past five decades and directed by Nicholas Hytner.

A cast of 100 will perform live on stage, including Roger Allam, Simon Russell Beale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Frances de la Tour, Judi Dench, Christopher Eccleston, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Alex Jennings, Rory Kinnear, Adrian Lester, Anna Maxwell Martin, Helen Mirren, Andrew Scott, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton and more to be announced.