National Theatre Together: The industry frontrunner announces what’s next
It’s been over 16 months since the National Theatre has held a press conference like this. The last, held in February 2020, had a markedly different tone – then, it was business as usual. Of course, a little over a month later, the status quo would become anything but usual, as theatres across the UK (and indeed the world) locked down and held on for dear life.
The National was among the most affected. Without the ability to sell tickets, the beloved institution lost 75% of its income overnight, later requiring a staggering £19.7million loan from the government to stay afloat. Of course, the last year hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the theatrical behemoth: across the releases of NT Live at Home on YouTube (which included One Man, Two Guvnors and Frankenstein), productions reached over 15 million virtual viewers – there’s still an audience out there, if venues can reach them.
Inasmuch, all eyes are on what the National does next. In the theatrical world, you’re only as good as your next season, and the National’s seems… nepotistic? Take its biggest new announcement: that artistic director Rufus Norris will be not only directing a new musical adaptation of Sleeping Beauty called Hex but also providing lyrics for the show, while his wife, Tanya Ronder, is providing the plot from the original book, and friend, Jim Fortune, the music. It seems that, now theatre is starting to return, Norris is eager to keep his friends and family in the business.
Other big announcements include Alecky Blythe returning to the NT for the first time since London Road, with a new verbatim play Our Generation (a co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre), and a revival of Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East, directed by Iqbal Khan to celebrate 25 years since its premiere. Fantastic plays that seem well-situated to earn critical and commercial success
Equally, it would appear that the National is still keen to milk its money-makers for all they’re worth, revealing that its 2017 NT Live production of Follies will be returning to cinemas, and that commercial success stories The Lehman Trilogy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Hadestown, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane will all be returning in one form or another. With £19.7m to pay back, Norris and co. aren’t messing around.
One of the more intriguing announcements came in the form of the new campaign, National Theatre Together, which will foster cooperation across the UK and highlight creativity and collaboration with theatre-makers and communities, for young people and audiences. What wasn’t revealed, however, is what this actually means. Is it a proper attempt to decentralise UK theatre, or a vapid effort to appeal to Tory-era “unity”? Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, the most interesting revelation came from the National’s deputy artistic director, Clint Dyer: that he will be directing and co-writing a feature film entitled Death of England: Face to Face, which will bring together the leads of the two previous Death of England monologues for the first time. This announcement is a seismic one on two fronts. First, it confirms that the National is still committed to exploring the heated topics of racism and systemic injustice, as the Death of England shows have been some of their more didactic forays into these fields. Secondly, it means the recent filmic production of Romeo and Juliet was obviously quite a success, and enough to warrant a second go.
As the theatre world adapts to the “new normal”, the National isn’t just in the play business anymore; it’s branching out into film. Given the recent efforts of National Theatre at Home (the organisation’s own-brand streaming service, which will have over 50 recorded productions on it by the end of 2021), perhaps this is a sign of what’s to come – a National Theatre that isn’t too concerned with precedent, and will instead put on whatever it has to to stay afloat, in whatever medium… as long as Rufus Norris’ friends can also be involved.