National Theatre director Rufus Norris has warned that the organisation is “haemorrhaging money” while it is forced to remain closed, arguing that the industry may need aggressive government support if it is to survive the coronavirus crisis.
Norris said the NT has been operating “with great difficulty” since it closed to the public last month despite being in a stronger position than many smaller companies, painting a stark picture of the health of the theatre sector during the ongoing pandemic.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A lot of organisations won’t be able to [survive]. Like everybody, we’re in a pretty precarious environment. We’ve worked hard over the last few years to get some reserves into the bank, and I’m very very glad we did that. We really need them now because we are haemorrhaging money.”
Asked what models he is considering around reopening, the NT director said he had “flexible” plans for any time between July and January, but warned that there was a chance “it could be worse than that”.
He stressed the importance of being realistic about reopening: “We can’t deny the fact that getting 1,000 people in a room together for three hours inside isn’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: ‘What could be the worst-case scenario?’, because there’s no point not looking this thing in the eye.”
The NT director and joint chief executive described the government’s job retention scheme as “very very helpful” in assisting operations while box office income remains at zero, but said: “We desperately hope it continues for as long as we can’t open. 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, so it’s really imperative that we’re supported to do that.”
He said whether “an aggressive government bailout” is required would depend on when theatres could reopen, and warned that if the shutdown went on for as long as some fear it might, the industry as a whole would need robust support from government to survive.
“It’s important that we stress this isn’t a bunch of needy artists saying: ‘Oh, I need to make a living.’ We’re a huge part of what makes this country tick. The creative industries are the fastest-growing sector in the UK and contribute billions every year to the Treasury’s coffers. If we want these industries to survive, that needs to be supported for sure,” Norris said.
Norris was speaking as the NT announced the next titles that will be streamed as part of its NT at Home initiative, which will be Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, and Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo.
Norris said he believed showing the NT’s productions for free online was “the least that we could do” to enable the nation to enjoy some light relief during lockdown.