National Theatre announces its new season line up

Words: Gillian Fisher
Published: Friday, 11th June 2021, 12:20pm

Story Seekers in partnership with National Theatre and the Unicorn Theatre (c) Ellie Kurttz
Story Seekers in partnership with National Theatre and the Unicorn Theatre (c) Ellie Kurttz

As the curtains rise on the Southbank, the National Theatre announces a dynamic programme of new work, classic revivals and exciting forays into digital production.

In the coming months and years, the NT will be premiering six new productions including Alecky Blythe’s Our Generation and Moira Buffini’s Manorwhile kicking off three major UK tours starting with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Five productions halted by the pandemic will also be returning to the stage while the NT expands its educational resources with fresh literary schemes including a new primary school initiative called Story Seekers.

Speaking live from the rehearsal studio, NT Director Rufus Norris and NT Executive Director Lisa Burger reveal that “adaptability and evolution” have been key as they enter this new phase in the theatre’s history.

Burger said: “Alongside the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the environment has defined the last year and demanded an active response.”

The NT has adopted the principals of the Theatre Green Book for all productions over the next 12 months which maps out the theatres’ path towards zero carbon. It has also launched a new nationwide project, Speak Up producing creative projects with young people most affected by the pandemic.

The doors have already opened to the public, with Jack Thorne’s After Life showing at the Dorfman Theatre and rehearsals are underway for Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood starring Michael Sheen, set to open at the Olivier Theatre in July.

Following the loss of a third of its staff during the pandemic, Norris said the NT is prioritizing the employment of as many artists as possible and is committed to making work that is representative and innovative. Alongside the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund loan of £19.7 million, the NT has also managed to fundraise almost £20 million and has launched a fundraising campaign National Theatre Together. Norris explained this campaign seeks to ensure the NT has a bright and creative future.

Norris said: “Ultimately, the National Theatre is an organisation for people; the audience’s we come together to serve, the theatre-makers, we may work together with and the communities and young people who are so much at the heart of what we do.”

When asked about the impact of taking on such a large loan to be paid back over the next two decades, Burger explained that the loan was crucially important for building up the NT’s reserves. Furthermore, the four-year repayment holiday will allow the NT to adjust its business model and examine how to do things differently.

“In the immediate future, we’ll be playing in straight runs instead of in rep, and there will be slightly fewer productions each year, said Burger.

“The year has also showed us the importance around digital in our mission to reach new audiences. Our digital output has had 15 million views, and we’ve transformed the Olivier into the round twice while converting the Lyttleton Theatre into a film studio.”

Rockets and Blue Lights by Winsome Pinnock, National Theatre (c) The Masons
Rockets and Blue Lights by Winsome Pinnock, National Theatre (c) The Masons

Following the success of Simon Godwin’s Romeo and Juliet filmed exclusively at the Lyttleton Theatre and aired on Sky last April, filming is commencing this week on Death of England Face to Face.

Speaking live from the Lyttleton Theatre, NT Deputy Artistic Director Clint Dyer revealed the premise behind his new work co-written with Roy Williams and starring Giles Terera and  Neil Maskell .

“This is the third installment of the Death of England series and Roy and I are eager to take the two characters of Michael and Delroy and put them face to face. Both characters facing difficult truths about their country, their identity nationalism, and race.” said Dyer.

“To be honest, I’m finding this truly thrilling. We are making a film using the creativity and expertise of the NT staff, the lighting rigs, incredible sets and costumes and the amazing film crew to create a unique film language for screen. We want it to feel like an intimate and direct experience for the audience. It feels like we’re making new ground following on from Romeo and Juliet, but we’re experimenting with the form. We want to explore how the creative industries can learn from each other and create something new, bold and exciting and hopefully good.”

As filming commences this week, Dyer returned to rehearsals, leaving Norris and Burger to answer questions. Norris confirmed that the NT would not be following Lord Lloyd Webber in taking the government to court in the event of another lockdown.

Norris said: “We don’t take quite such a hard line and we won’t be going to court over that, but respect other people’s decisions.”

Justin Audibert © Photo Craig Sugden
Justin Audibert © Photo Craig Sugden

In response to a question about the NT’s commitment to diversity, Norris said: “There has been a great amount of listening over the last few months and we’ve been able to speak to freelancers and creatives about what evolutions they’d like to see within the industry. So those conversations about representation are getting more and more nuanced, but the principle is the same as it was pre-pandemic. We’re National Theatre, we should be reflecting this nation.”

This commitment to representation and diverse storytelling is reflected in the NT’s new programming. Former NT writer-in-residence, Anupama Chandrasekhar will be premiering her play The Father and the Assassin at the Olivier in early 2022. The play tells the story of how Nathuram Godse was radicalised through the fight for Indian independence. Winsome Pinnock’s play Rockets and Blue Lights, a co-production with the Royal Exchange Theatre will be coming to the Dorfman Theatre later this year.

Due to travel restrictions, there are no immediate plans to commence European tours, but the NT is taking its work nationwide with its new programme Generate aimed at increasing partnerships with artists, venues and producers across the UK.

In these precarious times, Norris revealed that it remains difficult to make long-term plans, but that there are a number of projects ‘in the fridge’ for when restrictions are fully lifted.

Burger said: “As we once again employ artists and craftspeople for our stages in London and on tour, we remain resolute in our commitment to world-leading work that empowers artists, develops specialist theatre skills for the future and respects our environment. Theatre-makers create stories we’ll never forget. Together we can empower artists and craftspeople to make world-leading work.”