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Sunday openings and Temporary Theatre under threat in planned NT cuts

Rufus Norris. Photo: Paul Plews Rufus Norris. Photo: Paul Plews
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Rufus Norris is planning to scale back Sunday openings at the National Theatre and reduce the number of actors employed on its main stage as part of measures to make the organisation “leaner”.

The NT director also spoke for the first time about the sudden departure of Tessa Ross from the theatre as chief executive, claiming the theatre should be run by an “artist”.

Norris was speaking as he unveiled a season of work for 2016, and announced the closure of War Horse in the West End next year.

Without the revenue from War Horse, and in light of the forthcoming cuts that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is expected to announce in the next spending review, Norris said he was looking at how the NT could make savings across the board.

The director said he had a six-page document of proposed cuts, which included a reduction in the number of Sunday openings there are across the year, reducing capital spend, or closing the Temporary Theatre earlier than planned.

He added: “It’s not impossible that we could look at the maximum number of actors we have in the Olivier.”

Explaining the need for reductions, he said: “We need to cut our cloth, which is what we are in the process of doing. There’s no point ducking the issue that we have had a 30% cut in real terms in Arts Council England revenue over the past six or seven years, and we all know the figures that are being banded about for the future, so we are looking very, very hard at all the options that are available to us in terms of getting a bit leaner.”

However, he said he was committed to ensuring that the theatre continues to “break even” annually and added: “The key thing for us is that we take this opportunity to really focus on what is important and to make sure that whatever happens, and in what ever ways we need to get leaner, that we keep delivering the really crucial aspects of what we do.”

If the Temporary Theatre does shut earlier than its current planned closure in 2017, he said other spaces in and around the venue, such as foyers, would be “fair game” for the kind of productions currently seen in there.

Norris also talked about the unexpected departure of Tessa Ross as chief executive earlier this year after just a few months in the role.

He explained that the theatre had been trying out a dual model of director and executive director for the first time, and said: “We believed we could make that work, but in the event we couldn’t. That is the bottom line of it.”

He added: “This place is built to be run by an artist, actually.”

Launching his new season, Norris also addressed diversity, calling it “a really big issue”.

The director said there were a number of initiatives that the NT would be announcing in due course, and that it would be “taking whatever steps we need to, to address the simple fact that we need to reflect the country and the city we represent”.

Norris admitted that increasing diversity in some areas was “complex” but said this could be achieved by reaching school pupils at an “early age” and working with drama schools.

He also ruled out quotas, but said the NT had a “very clear target” which he added would “amount to the same thing”.

Earlier this month, Bush Theatre artistic director Madani Younis labelled quotas in the sector “tragic”.

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