25th April 2020

Environment National Theatre ‘haemorrhaging money’


environment Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller star in Danny Boyle's production of FrankensteinImage copyright
National Theatre Live

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Benedict Cumberbatch (left) and Jonny Lee Miller star in Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein, which will stream for free online

The National Theatre is “haemorrhaging money” and is in a “pretty precarious environment at the moment”, according to its artistic director.

Rufus Norris has warned that many arts organisations “won’t be able to survive” the impact of the coronavirus because their work “has completely dried up”.

The National Theatre closed on 16 March and all performances in West End theatres have been cancelled until at least 31 May.

He said “an aggressive bailout” may be needed if theatres remain shut for months to come.

“If this country wishes to have its world leading creative industries continuing to be that, then it is going to need significant support,” said Norris.

The longer theatres are closed, the longer the revenue from ticket sales is shut off. Sixty per cent of the National Theatre’s income each week, comes from the box office.

But performances will not resume before July, and Norris said it might be September or even January 2021 before the theatre re-opens. And he warned “it could be worse than that”.

“Getting 1,000 people into a room together for three hours inside, that ain’t what people are thinking about doing at the moment.

“So it would be completely irresponsible if we didn’t… put on a black hat and go, ‘right what could be the worst case scenario?’

“The creative industries are the fastest growing sector in the UK,” explained Norris, and “contribute billions and billions every year to the to the Treasury’s coffers. That needs to be supported for sure.”

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Paul Plews

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Director Rufus Norris warns that many arts organisations “won’t be able” to survive coronavirus, without “an aggressive bailout”

Arts Council England has launched a £160m emergency package for venues, including the National Theatre, across the culture sector. The theatre has also taken advantage of the government’s furlough scheme.

But Norris believes much more will be needed.

“It’s really important that we stress this isn’t a bunch of needy artists saying, ‘Oh, I need to make a living’,” he said. “We are a huge part of what makes this country tick.

“We are certainly adding to the health of the country in good times, and we will certainly be adding to the solution when we come out of it.”

Environment ‘People needed to have a laugh’

While it remains closed the National Theatre has been streaming some of its productions online for free.

It kicked off with the farce One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden.

“In this environment… it felt more than anything that people needed to have a laugh,” said Norris.

“An awful lot of people are under a lot of stress in very, very, different ways: the least that we can do is to give some free access to a bit of light relief.”

One Man, Two Guvnors attracted more than 2.6 million people over its week-long run.

The following week’s Jane Eyre notched up one million views and after that, Treasure Island, 522,000.

And although the initiative was launched for free, the theatre has received £100,000 in donations, which, said Norris, “is very, very welcome”.

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National Theatre Live

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Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo star as Anthony and Cleopatra

Now the National Theatre has announced the next two productions it will be streaming.

Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein sees Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, and both versions will be shown across two nights on 30 April and 1 May.

Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo will be streamed on 7 May.

Both productions will then be available on demand for seven days.

The theatre is also launching a virtual quiz, to be played at home, with familiar faces from the world of stage and screen as the quizmasters. The first quiz on Monday 27 April will be hosted by Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry, Lesley Manville and Sir Ian McKellen.

They will be asking questions on topics including history, sport, nature and, of course, the National Theatre.

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