On an announcement of the 2017 program DAO asks: whose National Theatre?


In a press conference held recently at the National Theatre, artistic director Rufus Norris announced what we could expect from the nations home of theatre from this autumn into summer 2017. Deborah Williams was there to find out how the planned program is shaping up in terms of diversity.

Photo of the outside of the National Theatre in twilight

The National Theatre. Photo by Philip Vile

Overall Rufus Norris and his team’s plans offer a more fluid and open programme, national touring shows, school shows, and a real attempt to bring the temporary space spirit into the bricks and mortar of 1960s concrete. It is clear that Norris is talking to people and working out how to be a national theatre. However I am much more concerned about the intentions of the people he is speaking to. As we know all too well, one size does not fit all.

Norris unfortunately opened with a metaphor about eye patches and wooden legs, which sank my heart. I didn’t walk out and it was good to be there with expectations after the promises made and in some way delivered last year around diversity and to some extent disability. With the temporary space now gone I was intrigued as to how that spirit was going to be carried through into the new Dorfman, as well as the Lyttleton and Olivier.

The season has shaped up well, with Yaёl Farber’s Salome coming into the Oliver, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America coming into the Lyttleton, with the wonderful Nathan Lane actually making it to the stage, I hope, this time. And Norris is collaborating with Carol Ann Duffy on a new verbatim piece My Country, which is very much a response to the EU vote, which we are told is developing all the time and will be the voices of the country on the stage. The show will also try to tour to the nations.

I was of course looking for the diversity in this all and seeing if we could get beyond Graeae in the temporary space or Threepenny Opera on the main stage, as nice and well-meaning as they may have been, they were very, very low hanging fruit.

In that vein the show I am anxious about is Ugly Lies the Bone, which sees Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director of the Tricycle, coming back, with another US written play. This time about female military personal living post conflict with disability and using VR therapy to help her heal. There is way too much in this concept for me to even start discussing here, trust me.

Splattered throughout the programme are some interesting options, Improbable coming in with Lost Without Words – a show for, with and by older actors exploring memory loss and what it’s like to be ‘an old actor’ in this day and age. There are, a considerable number of female voices in deep contrast to the last regime. Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood will have its world premiere in the Dorfman Theatre in July 2017 with a cast that includes Olivia Colman, which has defiantly piqued wider critical interest. I am not a fan of either I have to declare.

When someone from the audience mentioned how good the Stagetext live speech to text was, and Norris responded that they were re-looking at their access and exploring how Virtual Reality and 360 films can enable the National Theatre to extend its offer, I really could not allow that to slip. So I asked the question about access across the programme.

It was made clear that the New Work Department were working on this, that he himself was learning on the job with disability as he highlighted how he had recently spent a week with ‘leading Deaf and Disabled actors, writers and a director’ (I was not there in case you were wondering!) and that we should look out for a manifesto of sorts in the coming months. So there are going to be announcements, for which we should all ‘keep em peeled’. And I, it would appear have to develop another level of patience.

More details of the National Theatre’s full programme can be found by clicking on this link to view a PDF

For access details click on this link to visit the National Theatre’s access page and to find details of joining the theatre’s Access List