National plans to thrive with new season

Reporter: Caroline Bishop, first published Wed 06 Oct 2010 16:04
Zoe Wanamaker in All My Sons at the Apollo theatre (Photo: Nobby Clark)/servlet/file/store5/item110789/version1/fileservice770/110789_770_preview.jpg

Zoë Wanamaker is to star in a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre next year, directed by Howard Davies.

The actress, who has previously appeared at the National Theatre in Much Ado About Nothing and The Rose Tattoo, has just finished starring in Davies’s production of All My Sons in the West End.

The production was announced today by National Theatre Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner as part of a 2011 £10 Travelex Season that will also include the NT debut of Royal Court Artistic Director Dominic Cooke, who will direct Shakespeare’s A Comedy Of Errors, and a new production of Arnold Wesker’s 1957 play The Kitchen, directed by Bijan Sheibani, who directed Our Class at the National last year.

Playwright Ben Power, who has found success with Rupert Goold’s Headlong company and who is now, along with Sheibani, an Associate Director at the National, teams up with Mike Bartlett (Earthquakes In London) to adapt a new production of Ibsen’s Emperor And Galilean. Jonathan Kent will direct this drama about the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, which will be the first professional production of the play staged in English.

The National will also collaborate once again with the Southbank Sinfonia for a staging of Jonathan Miller’s St Matthew Passion. The orchestra previously worked with the NT on a production of Tom Stoppard and André Previn’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.

The productions were confirmed today as the National Theatre published its 2009-2010 annual report, which announced a year-end operating surplus of £495,000 and a 1.2 million total audience for NT productions, due, in large part, to the success of the National Theatre’s production of War Horse. The show, produced by the NT at the New London theatre without any commercial producing partner, has yielded a £2.5 million surplus, contributing to a box office income for all NT shows that makes up 47% of the venue's total income for the year. The National’s money-making ability resulted in subsidy falling to 30% of turnover, down from 50% in 2002.

Hytner said these recent entrepreneurial efforts – which also include the introduction of Sunday performances and the NT Live programme of play screenings in UK cinemas – will be crucial in helping the National to survive the funding cuts that are expected to come from the government’s spending review on 20 October.

The success of War Horse, which will open on Broadway and later in Toronto, is “one of the ways we are going to get through this,” said Hytner, as is the venue’s increasing emphasis on the importance of philanthropy.

“We will thrive if we are successful in the efforts we are making,” said Hytner, adding “we don’t intend to significantly reduce our activity or increase prices.”

It would be short-sighted, stressed the Artistic Director, to reduce spending on developing new, risky projects that could potentially enjoy a similar financial success to War Horse. “It feels to me to be a no-brainer, but it is not an argument it’s going to be easy to make in the context of 25% cuts.”

He added that there was no such thing as safe commercial repertoire. “Our only chance is to continue to take punts on things.”

In anticipation of funding cuts, the National is also in discussion with other London theatres about the possibility of pooling resources such as HR, box office services, costume storage and occupational health. The Royal Court, Hampstead theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Bush theatre and Almeida theatre are just some of the venues involved.

CB