“National must mean national” Rufus Norris proclaimed at the launch of the 2018-19 season, introducing a programme of activities and initiatives that span not just the National Theatre’s three auditoria – the Lyttelton, the Olivier and the Dorfman – but focus on UK-wide engagement through community-led projects, touring productions and NT Live screenings. With our future cultural output threatened by what the Artistic Director described as “the marginalisation of the arts” in schools, we have a “duty to shout as loud as we can” about creating the kinds of opportunity and representation that will protect our “world-leading” industry.
With this firmly in mind, Norris revealed the 2019 Public Acts production will be a musical version of As You Like It building on the original performed in New York two years ago. Running from 24-27 August, at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, the show will be directed by Douglas Rintoul and utilise a soundtrack by Taub drawn from pop, calypso and soul, as well as traditional Broadway musicals. As with Pericles, over 100 members of the local community will work with professional actors and performance groups to create the show and tickets will be available from November. The Public Acts initiative, assuming a national remit, will then partner with Cast in Doncaster in 2020.
Of the shows previously announced, tickets for Martin Crimp’s much-anticipated play opening in January – When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other: Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela starring Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane – will only be available via a ballot. 10,000 seats will be offered when the ballot opens at 12pm on 22 November, and while Norris acknowledged the limited run means it will restrict access, the Dorfman remains the most appropriate space for the work regardless of its star casting.
In 2019, the Dorfman will also host Ella Hickson’s new play ANNA set in East Berlin in the crucial year of 1968 when revolution swept Europe. Audience members will use headphones to listen to a soundscape devised by Ben and Max Ringham to experience the show from the protagonist’s point of view, while later in the year the acclaimed Annie Baker brings her new play The Antipodes to the Dorfman, after successful UK premieres for The Flick and John.
The National also continues its focus on the experiences of the Windrush generation with an adaptation of Andrea Levy’s Small Island which will open in the Olivier in May 2019 directed by Norris. Following the success of The Barbershop Chronicles which toured and Nine Night which transfers to the West End in December, Norris explained that Small Island had been in development for some years but feels even more important in the wake of Windrush, and especially because it opens in the aftermath of Britain’s exit from the European Union next Spring.
Norris also announced a one-man show entitled Richard Pryor on Fire written and performed by Lenny Henry in the Dorfman in 2020, while Inua Ellams relocates Chekhov’s Three Sisters to 1960s Nigeria with the Biafran Civil War as a backdrop, performed in the Lyttelton in the autumn of 2019.
In April, the Lyttelton will also house a revival of Caryl Churchill’s seminal Top Girls set in the 1980s and directed by Lyndsey Turner. This will be the first time that any of the National Theatre stages has produced a Churchill play Norris explains, relishing the chance to celebrate how her innovative work has expanded concepts of theatricality and form. Also announced for the Lyttelton, Polly Findlay will direct Rutherford and Son in May starring Roger Allam – the first NT revival for a quarter of a century – examining class, education, industrialisation and inter-generational politics, while Simon Woods is awarded the same grand canvas for his new play Hansard on ‘personal and political responsibility’ from September 2019 starring Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings.
Also announced were a new adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe adapted by John Donnelly in the Olivier in February marking an NT directorial debut for Blanche McIntyre, while David Hare will reimagine Ibsen’s Peer Gynt as Peter Gynt in July before transferring to the Edinburgh International Festival in August, directed by Jonathan Kent and starring James McArdle who previously featured in the Chekhov season and Angels in America.
Norris paid tribute to Travelex who ends its 15-year collaboration but helped to make the theatre more accessible through £15 tickets and a drive “to be bolder in our programme.” A commitment was made to ensure that 30% of tickets will remain at £15 in 2019 while a conducive replacement partner is found. Beyond the announced productions, the NT is collaborating with others as close by as the Young Vic and as far as Scotland, community groups and charities, as well as welcoming theatre-makers from Europe and America. “We are constantly working to make this theatre more national” Norris explained, insisting that the concrete edifice on the Southbank has to be “a community centre”.
Maryam Philpott | Image: Cameron Slater