National Theatre boss: We’ve learnt lessons after criticism of gender balance

13th Jun 19 | Entertainment News

The institution sparked controversy this year over a lack of female playwrights and directors.

National Theatre Stock

National Theatre boss Rufus Norris has said lessons were learnt after it was criticised for announcing a raft of male-heavy productions.

The theatre sparked controversy earlier this year over a lack of female playwrights or directors, with Sandi Toksvig saying the word National should be stripped from its title.

Norris said the previous programme did not reflect the entire year and that four productions currently on stage, including the hit Small Island, were written by women.

Sandi Toksvig had criticised the National Theatre
Sandi Toksvig (Matt Crossick/PA)

But the theatre’s director told the Press Association: “The real learning from it is that these announcements are strong gestures.

“It’s important for us to understand that and realise that every time we make an announcement, that can be read on its own.”

He said the theatre was working towards its goal of 50% of living writers as well as directors on its stages being female by 2021.

Maxine Peake
Maxine Peake (Matt Crossick/PA)

Earlier this year, hundreds of writers signed an open letter complaining about a lack of women in the programme announcement.

Great British Bake Off presenter Toksvig, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “There is nothing ‘national’ about a partial season of six plays all written by male writers, with only one female director and no ethnic minority women.”

Eight of the 15 productions announced on Thursday were written by women.

They include The Welkin by Lucy Kirkwood and starring Maxine Peake.

Screen and stage star Peake, 44, who last appeared at the National Theatre in 2002, will tread the boards in the drama in January.

The play, set in 18th century rural Suffolk, examines “justice and gender”.

Peake plays a midwife, the only person prepared to defend a girl who says she is pregnant and has been sentenced to “hang for a heinous murder”.

Rufus Norris
Rufus Norris (Ian West/PA)

Poet Kate Tempest will make her National Theatre debut as the writer of Paradise, a “powerful reimagining of Philoctetes by Sophocles”, starring Lesley Sharp.

Other new productions include Manor by Moira Buffini and All Of Us, the first play by Francesca Martinez.

Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is also being adapted for the stage and Rafe Spall will star in Death Of England, written by Roy Williams and Clint Dyer.

© Press Association 2019

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