The national theatre has always been, in my eyes, the most exciting and progressive place to see theatre. Not only does it have three theatre spaces that are truly state-of-the-art and like no other, but it also works hard to encourage new audiences into the theatre and create work for every demographic.
With this in mind, it’s with great sadness that I feel the national theatre may be losing it’s edge. Since Rufus Norris became the new artistic director things seem to be slipping somewhat. I’ve seen five shows at the national since he took on the role and three have been notably below the standard you would be used to seeing at the National.
With the amount of work the National puts on its not altogether surprising that it can sometimes be a little hit and miss. But lately the misses seem more frequent and drastic. Yes, ‘cleansed’ and ‘Angels in America’ were both fantastic productions… but they were also revivals with a proven track record. My real problem lies on the Olivier stage. I used to go out of my way to see productions in this incredible space, but now I dread that bleak, tainted stage. It’s like they no longer know what to do with it.
‘Wonder.land’, ‘Threepenny Opera’ and now ‘Common’ are all productions that have died a death on this vast, unforgiving platform. Two of these productions were directed by Rufus Norris himself.
I saw ‘common’ starring Anne-Marie Duff only the other day on it’s press night. It seemed plagued with troubles throughout its previews and although it seemed to have improved it was still swarmed with one and two star reviews the next day. I’m not surprised really. This in the same season as ‘Salome’, also on the Olivier stage and also trashed by reviewers with one star reviews.
I can see the immense difficulties with producing work on the Olivier stage (its huge. The stage is huge!) but it does make you question how things can be allowed to get so bad. As a theatre maker I know that it takes a lot of time, effort and good will to put even the worst offerings on stage, but at a venue with so very many resources why weren't these shows cut dead sooner in development. Did nobody see how bad they were?
The problem with ‘Common’ was undoubtedly a disaster of a script. This is almost the worst thing to have to blame as this is the part that comes first and has to pass through the most amount of people before even considering putting it on stage. I could forgive it more if this work came from a new writer. Not because it would explain this piss-poor attempt at storytelling, but because at least it would be giving someone an opportunity to try something out. ‘Common’ was written by DC Moore who’s had plenty of past success at the royal court. His work should surely be better than this and if not he wont benefit from the platform like others would. If anything this is a very bad outing for him.
I’m lucky enough to see loads of new work throughout the year. Work by unknown artists and writers. Work that is so powerful but goes mostly unnoticed in the mad dash of fringe. Work that goes home to quietly be forgotten. Why is it then, with all that fresh untapped talent, our very own national theatre can’t seem to find anything decent to put on stage. Why are so many opportunities being missed.
Don't get me wrong, maybe I’ve just been unlucky with my choices. I’ve heard of some decent national productions that have been on since Rufus Norris took over and maybe he’s just finding his feet or trying something new… or maybe none of this is his fault at all (though wonder.land was his baby and was critically trashes when staged in Manchester and he still decided to bring it to the national for some deranged reason!). I Love the National and hope to keep visiting regularly and seeing what happens next (I’ll be back in the cursed Olivier in a few months time for ‘Follies’) but for me it’s not good enough for them to be churning out one and two star shows. With all their resources I really cant find the excuse for that. This is our National stage and it’s letting us down.
So buck up, National, I expect great things and, after all, the only way is up!