Entertainment My 10-point plan to make the National Theatre great...

My 10-point plan to make the National Theatre great again

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4. Get Political

One-time Artistic Director of the National, Peter Hall, was a true statesman, having the ear of the-then Conservative Government and lobbying tirelessly around issues such as public transport and disability access. Nick Hytner had a similarly canny approach which extended into business partnerships and the wildly successful Travelex deal (now sadly ended) where tickets could be obtained for a tenner. With severe deficits, the National needs all it can to obtain both more state funding and also enter into commercial partnerships that will ultimately benefit the less well-off.

5. Don’t block out rival directors

We have many talented directors and Rubasingham must court them to maintain a sense of excellence. Her contemporaries such as Rupert Goold and Simon Godwin have done great work on the South Bank, and let’s not forget brilliant mavericks like Robert Icke who has not worked there since The Red Barn in 2016.

6. Make it a truly National theatre

Part of the National’s remit, surely, is to hold a mirror up to the nation and a challenge for Rubasingham is to represent every sort of citizen in terms of her commissions. But that’s not all. She needs to ensure national access by touring more productions, and crucially, bring more repertory productions to the London stage, to help a regional system which is on its knees. Standing at the Sky’s Edge from Sheffield was a triumph. But there should be more.

7. Sort out the acoustics in the Olivier Theatre

Oh, the Olivier. An enviable space in some ways, but it takes a director of Goold’s talent to make that huge barn work (see Dear England). So many plays get lost in the vast expanse, and there is a severe problem with the acoustics which are a challenge for even the most stentorian thesp. Cladding the (foolishly) concrete walls in wood would be a costly, but effective measure.

8. Attract the young people

Theatre has always had a problem with getting in younger audiences, and the National feels particularly grey-haired. Not that they should be ignored – and indeed middle England should continue to be courted, but commercial deals (see point four) and a pricing system which hikes the costs for some seats but lowers it for others would go a long way to bringing the magic of theatre to a new generation. Also, programme work that appeals to their preoccupations. And I don’t mean a TikTok musical.

9. Redesign the communal area

Is it just me or is it hard to find somewhere comfortable to sit at the National? There is that strange lobby-like space around the Atrium cafe where you always feel unwelcome, and there’s not enough space to sit down around the main bar. A serious configuration would be brilliant, a place to meet and also to tap away on your laptop to your heart’s content. Also the sandwiches are rubbish.

10. Stay away from the culture wars

Above all, Rubasingham must not be susceptible to the madness which has polluted the theatre industry and is particularly virulent on Twitter. This means being fearless when it comes to mounting a production which may offend those on university campuses, but also producing work which will not necessarily go down well with the colonels. The National Theatre is, after all, for everyone.

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