UPDATE 02/04/19: Following the publication of the letter signed by 200 playwrights, the National Theatre has issued a letter in response. Read it here.
National Theatre bosses Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger have reaffirmed their commitment to achieving gender equality among writers on its stages, following scathing responses to a recent all-male announcement.
Norris and Burger’s statement comes as a letter signed by more than 200 playwrights, including Timberlake Wertenbaker, Zinnie Harris and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, urges the theatre to “stop talking about it and start programming us”.
In addition, writer and TV presenter Sandi Toksvig called on the venue to change its name to the Theatre, so it more accurately represents what she claims it stages – “plays by boys, directed by boys, about boys”.
The response from Norris and Burger marks their first as joint chief executives, a move that was announced last week, and highlights the theatre’s commitment to achieving gender equality on its stages by 2021.
In their statement, Norris and Burger said they acknowledged that the theatre’s most recent announcement, featuring a line-up of six shows by men, does not reflect the “nation on our stages” but said forthcoming productions would mark the first time the theatre’s stages had been “dominated” by female playwrights.
The letter admitted that the recent season, including ‘Master Harold’… and the Boys by Athol Fugard, did not tally with the National’s commitment to ensuring it represents the whole nation, adding it “fell short”.
“In the next few months we will announce further new works by women that will be staged in all three of our theatres on the South Bank, including two plays in both the Olivier and the Lyttelton. It will be the first time in our history that our largest stages will be dominated by female voices,” the statement said.
It added: “The picture that this week’s announcement painted at the National Theatre certainly doesn’t reflect the value we place on representation, while no two announcements will ever look the same, we will ensure we demonstrate more consistently our belief that theatre must be fuelled by a breadth of voices.”
In 2016, Norris pledged to ensure female directors and living playwrights make up 50% of the theatre’s output by 2021. The letter confirmed the theatre’s intention to meet this and said: “We know we have further to go, but it’s an absolute priority for us to do so.”
Last week, a letter signed by writers including Jenifer Toksvig and Stella Duffy said the theatre canon has been “dominated by male playwrights” for centuries, and added that the diversifying of the canon “demands the commissioning of new work”.
“No one is saying it is easy but, dear National Theatre, it is easier for you,” it said, referencing its public funding.