‘We should have axed War Horse musicians in 2009’ – NT’s Nick Starr

Nick Starr. Photo: Sarah Lee
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National Theatre executive director Nick Starr has said he regrets not axing live musicians from War Horse when the show transferred to the West End in 2009, claiming that would have been the “moment to tackle it”.

The NT came under fire in March of this year after the organisation ended the contracts of the five musicians working on the show, stating that their employment was not a “good use of money”.

Speaking at a symposium at the National Theatre last week, Starr said that following the show’s move to the New London Theatre in 2009 its co-director, Tom Morris, suggested reconsidering the necessity of the musicians, who Starr said were “sitting in a band room being piped through to the auditorium for 10 minutes and appearing on stage for a few minutes”.

“I, to my regret, said I thought we should just leave it. I say that I regret it because that would have been the moment to tackle it [in 2009], and to say that we should spend our music budget in the way that is artistically best, which means where you can see musicians playing,” Starr said.

“Of the £1 million the National Theatre spends on music each year, it felt odd to be hiring people to be sitting in band rooms, completely unknown to the audience,” he added.

The Musicians’ Union remains embroiled in a dispute over the issue, which previously saw the musicians earning about £50,000 a year for their performances as part of the show.

Starr said: “Yes it’s uncomfortable, yes it probably makes us look a bit bad, but we’re not doing it from a hard-nosed point of view. We just think it’s the responsible thing to do.”

At the symposium he also called for a better understanding that the subsidised and commercial sectors are not “in a binary situation”.

“We don’t find ourselves in a subsidised camp or a commercial camp... Where we find things are not working we should try to find more and more adventurous ways of just getting work on,” Starr said.