Our Story

Our Story


Our History

The company was established in 1956 as the first youth theatre in the world. Over the past 60 years it has nurtured the talent of hundreds of thousands of young people and continues to be recognised as a world-leading youth arts organisation. Today the National Youth Theatre discovers, develops and platforms exceptional performers and theatre technicians aged 14-25 from Great Britain and Northern Ireland and prides itself on always being as ambitious as the young people it serves.

Our Former Members

Dame Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Sir Daniel Day-Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Firth, Rosamund Pike, Orlando Bloom, Catherine Tate, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Derek Jacobi, Timothy Dalton, Matt Lucas, Hugh Bonneville, Matt Smith and Zawe Ashton.

What do they all have in common?

They were all members of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain (NYT) and it’s almost impossible to turn on the TV or go to the theatre or cinema without encountering an actor who was part of the company.

You will also struggle to go backstage at a theatre anywhere in the country without finding a graduate from a NYT technical courses and backstage alumni have gone on to leading technical roles on Olympics Ceremonies and at the world's biggest theatres and events. Backstage alumni include internationally celebrated fashion and costume designer Gareth Pugh, leading production manager Anna Anderson and former Unicorn Theatre Artistic Director Purni Morrel. Former NYT members also include sector leaders in politics, business, law, the media and medicine. Whether it’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy reading the Channel 4 News, Chris Bryant MP speaking in the House of Commons or Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee reviewing the papers, NYT alumni are ‘always on stage’. 

Social Change

In the 1950s and 60s NYT pioneered the idea of ‘youth theatre’, staging professional standard productions made up solely of young people on leading stages in the West End and on tour for the first time. Audiences enjoyed watching the 'stars of the future', like a young Helen Mirren giving a defining and celebrated Cleopatra at the Old Vic in 1965 or Timothy Dalton in NYT’s first piece of new writing Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs at the Royal Court in 1966. 

Over the following decades NYT has continued to cast the leading men and women of the future in the West End, but also increasingly in more unusual settings reaching new audiences. For example, Matt Smith joined the company after his dreams of becoming a footballer were hit by an injury. Matt was lauded for his mature performance as Thomas Becket in our 2003 production of A Murder in the Cathedral at Southwark and Westminster Cathedrals, before going on to become the youngest Doctor in BBC's Doctor Who.

“The National Youth Theatre is the reason I’m an actor. It completely transformed my life and I’m proud to be part of it still because I care very deeply about it.”  

Matt Smith


Despite the extraordinary success of former members, the National Youth Theatre is not, and has never set out to be, an X-Factor ‘star-making factory.’ Instead its guiding principles are developing young people socially and creatively, teaching them to work as a team through an ensemble approach to theatre and creating positive social change. This is evident not only in its social inclusion work around the country but also in pioneering cultural exchange work abroad.

Ground Breaking Theatre

In 2008 NYT was the first UK theatre company to perform at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, staging a play about racism with a cast of young UK and Chinese actors against the backdrop of the controversy around the Beijing Olympics. Since then the company has delivered ground-breaking cultural exchanges with young men and women in Saudi Arabia and represented Britain welcoming athletes from around the world to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. 

60th Anniversary Celebrations

During 2016, our 60th anniversary year, we staged ten new productions including a special sell-out Gala at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre, featuring forty notable alumni and a cast of one hundred of Britain’s best young talent.

Elsewhere in the West End, we staged the London premiere of Stephen Kelman’s Man Booker Prize nominated Pigeon English, a teddy girl take on Romeo and Juliet and the West End premiere of Dennis Kelly’s DNA. In August of 2016 we took over the Finborough Theatre with the world premiere of the stage adaptation by Stephanie Street of Mohsin Hamed’s Man Booker Prize nominated novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist and additional world premieres from Olivier Award nominated writers: The Fall by James Fritz and Bitches by Bola Agbaje.

NYT's social inclusion course Playing Up staged two new plays at the Arcola Theatre in June. Work outside London included auditions and courses around the country, Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife at the Hay Festival and a new adaptation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz of The Tempest by William Shakespeare at Royal & Derngate Northampton.