How Do You Solve a Problem like the National Theatre?
I’ve struggled with the productions at the National Theatre over the last 18 months or so, I don’t simply blame Rufus Norris, a lot of the National’s problems go back to changes made by Sir Nicholas Hytner as part of NT Future. I am not happy admitting this because the National is literally a national treasure but from being my main theatre it is now a theatre I have booked very little for.
Let’s start with the productions, two months ago Norris et al announced this VERY EXCITING 2016 and Beyond announcement. Fiennes! Hare! Amadeus! Hedda Gabbler! Angels in America! All great but all so samey, I cannot go to theatre without seeing Fiennes (Man and Superman, The Master Builder and soon to be Richard III), I like Hare but Hare is everywhere and him writing or adapting a play is no long exciting. The only thing that feels fresh and exciting is Angels in America and personally I am not excited about the casting of Andrew Scott, Russell Tovey and Denise Gough but it is great to see a modern classic back where it belongs.
The problem with the upcoming season is that it is all familiar revivals, it seems the natural antidote to the new productions such as Wonder.Land, which were poor but completely ignores all the poor revivals and adaptations of 2015; Waste, Husbands and Sons and Everyman to name a few.
My main problem with the NT recently has been the casting. Glenda Jackson is off to the Old Vic, Vanessa Redgrave is at the Almeida, Sirs Patrick and Ian are going on tour and appearing at the Wyndham’s and younger stars like Kit Harrington (Doctor Faustus) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Spoils) are appearing elsewhere at the West End. The NT (based on current casting) is not attracting the big names anymore and it is a real shame.
Increasingly the NT is relying on transfers; both from and to other theatres. People, Places and Things deserves its acclaim, as does The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time but it is also relying on Chichester Festival Theatre’s hits such as Young Chekov and returning the favour by sending This House (Cottesloe and Olivier) to Chichester in October but sadly its new works just don’t excite me.
There are other issues with the NT, The Dorfman is a horrible space-it feels no better than the cramped Cottesloe and only works if a production is in the round, restaurants such as the Green Room are terrible and NT have removed the light meal option from the cafes concentrating on increasing bar space. Plus they have introduced a dynamic pricing, meaning that if you want to see a show on a weekend then it will cost you more than in the week. They aren’t the only theatre doing this but for a theatre of the nation it is a pretty poor way to go.