The Reviews Hub’s Maryam Philpott attends the National Theatre Press Conference to see what audiences can expect in the coming months.
More and new is the message from the National Theatre today as they announce new productions, initiatives and future direction; more Rufus Norris who signs up for a further five years as Artistic Director, more UK partnerships as it looks to build on and extend its regional co-production programme to make the National truly national, more work on representation and diversity on its stages and, after the conclusion of the Travelex partnership, crucially more low priced tickets across the theatre’s output.
Replacing the £15 sponsored ticket scheme, the National Theatre will instead offer a self-funded initiative to provide £10 and £20 seats for all productions, with 250,000 low priced seats available every year. 50,000 of these will be £10, some of which will be available through Friday Rush, as well as £10 seats for school parties. ‘How do you afford it?’ Rufus Norris was asked: By complicated box office maths that should see revenues remain stable and a claim that top seat prices won’t increase but watch this space.
Norris also announced that the diversity targets including ensuring 50% of writers and directors are female and 25% from BAME communities, with similar aspirations for performers, will be delivered by the 2021 target, and Norris insists that the theatre is using its UK-wide partnerships and touring productions to seek out new voices and new creatives. Early next year we are “getting to the starting line” he explains, and deepening ties to create wider representation on National Theatre stages is a priority for his next five years at the helm.
So on to the work and in addition to shows already announced including Romeo and Juliet with Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley, and Jack Absolute Flies Again penned by Oliver Chris and Richard Bean as well as a return for Small Island, the emphasis is on the new as several artists make their National Theatre debuts. Playwright of the moment Lynette Linton adapts Peal Clarge’s Blues for the Alabama Sky set in 1930s Harlem starring Giles Terrera, while Simon Stone will directed fellow debutant Kristin Scott Thomas in Phaedre in December relocated to British politics with Assaad Bouab as her lover, a major production to finish the year.
And plenty of big names return including Jack Thorne taking a break from writing most TV dramas to work with director Jeremy Herrin and designer Bunny Christie on an adaptation of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film After Life in the Dorfman. Joining Thorne will be new work from April de Angelis who lures director Indhu Rubasingham from The Kiln for Kerry Jackson, a Hackney-based comedy about gentrification as well as new work from Death of England writer Roy Williams transferring his Chichester production of Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads.
Greeted by the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, the press pack were treated to a song from The Corn is Green which comes to the Lyttelton in June performed in the capital for the first time in 35-years. It will star Nicola Walker and is directed by a very busy Dominic Cooke, who also opens a version of Hello Dolly! at the Adelphi in August, Good with David Tennant at the Playhouse Theatre in October and is reportedly working on a Follies movie. Finally, on the Southbank, Katie Mitchell will collaborate with rising star Alice Birch on an adaptation of Outline. Transit. Kudos which will integrate film and audio techniques in an immersive production.
5 million people have seen National Theatre touring productions outside of London (excluding NT Live figures) and this year Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie will hit the road from June to October alongside Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights which comes to London in September before a wider UK airing, while David Eldridge’s production of Beginning directed by Polly Findlay will open at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in September before touring. Transfers are announced for The Ocean at the End of the Lane which heads to the Duke of York’s Theatre from late October and an ever-growing life for The Lehman Trilogy which heads to San Francisco and Los Angeles after its Broadway run.
More and new it is the National’s mantra as it strives to represent the whole of the UK by travelling further and working harder to find new voices, experiences and contributors to the theatre-making process. Key to that is new audiences and cheaper ticket schemes which should make the London auditoria at least more accessible. As a statement of intent, it is clear Rufus Norris already knows what he wants his legacy to be, in five years’ time, we’ll know if he has achieved it.