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An open letter to Rufus Norris and the National Theatre (your views)

National Theatre, South Bank. Photo: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock
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An open letter to Rufus Norris and the programming team at the National Theatre…

We all know there’s a problem with representation in theatre – on and off stage – and last year you committed to 50:50 plays by women at the National by 2021, but why do we have to wait until then? There are plenty of plays by brilliant women writers.

So imagine our dismay when four new shows are announced and not one is written by a woman.

2018 wasn’t a great year for women at the National. Victoria Sadler’s annual report on the state of women in theatre says it all: “Twenty-one plays this year across the National’s three stages. How many written by women? Seven and a half… That’s barely scraping a third. And this is the nation’s theatre. Where the hell are they suddenly going to hit equity from?”

Your interview in The Stage in February last year (Rufus Norris: ‘Name and shame yourself to reach gender equality’, News, February 8,  2018, p3) feels like an invitation to write this letter. In it you say with every new programme at the theatre, balance was the “first discussion had”, but it’s hard for us to take this seriously in light of the realities of your programming.

We understand there is a perceived ‘risk’ around new writing unless it is by one of a handful of white male writers, but there are other ways to offset that risk: casting, directors and most importantly trust.

There are institutions that trust female writers. Shakespeare’s Globe put its faith in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Emilia has now transferred to the West End. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s autumn season in the Swan features two new plays by women of colour (and an all-female directing roll call). The Royal Court’s current season has more plays by women than men.

In addition, £16.7 million in public funding should offset that risk – we are more than half the population and we have a right to have our voices on your stages. It’s time to stop talking about it and start programming us. We are here. Work with us.

Signed

Timberlake Wertenbaker, Zinnie Harris, Abbie Spallen, Emma Reeves, Roanne Bardsley, Lisa Holdsworth, Lisa McGee, Debbie Moon, Joanne Harris, Hannah Khalil, Athena Stevens, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Kirsty Housley, Sally Abbott, Joy Wilkinson, Gary Owen, Linda McLean, Camilla Whitehill, Krystina Nellis, Steven Kavuma, Victoria Sadler, Luke Barnes, Matilda Ibini, Polly Wiseman, Nicola Schofield, Nastazja Somers, Ming Ho, Rachel Harper, Nessah Muthy, Martha Hillier, Emily Carding, Isley Lynn, Rachel Vogler, Milly Thomas, Karen Featherstone, Anna Jordan, Rafaella Marcus, Madelaine Moore, Anna Bewick, Nina Segal, Liz Hyder, Lydia Parker, Janice Hallett, Tamsin Parker, Becky Prestwich, Isla van Tricht, Sarah Anson, Máirín O’Hagan, Lindsey Hill, Natasha Sutton Williams, Joanna Greaney, Zoe Lafferty, Steven Bloomer, Rena Brannan, Laura Poliakoff, Rebecca Crookshank, Jen Tan, Eleanor Rushton, Amanda Duke, Eve Leigh, Jayshree Patel, Jo Hardman, Charlotte Hudson, Hannah George, Rabiah Hussain, Gail Renard, Siân Rowland, Abi Zakarian, Lucy Chau, Lai-Tuen Sheen, Sumerah Srivastav, Michelle Payne, Poppy Corbett, Lisa McMullin, Nyla Levy, Jenifer Toksvig, Katie Boyles, Maev Mac Coille, Jasmin Mandi-Ghomi, Fran Bushe, Daniel York Loh, Katherine Chandler, Lisa Parry, David Haworth, Tracy Spottiswoode, Tracy Harris, Jennifer Hardy, Sharon Morgan, Jennifer Lunn, Deborah McAndrew, Sara Joyce, Vlad Butucea, Alun Saunders, Matthew Bulgo, Sophie Petzal, Tim Price, Cameron Forbes, Kim Pearce, Bushra Laskar, David Tse, Nomi Bailey, Kelly Jones, Rhiannon Tise, Naomi Westerman, Sam Williams, Rebecca Boey, Zoe Hunter Gordon, Alice Brett, Natasha Kaeda, Joanne Lau, Charlotte Essex, Carrie Marx, Joseph Brett, Mingyu Lin, Patricia Rodríguez, Gemma Hurley, Jane Eden, Alice Nutter, Kathryn Golding, Juliet Gilkes Romero, Kaite O’Reilly, Lindsay Williams, Emma Bown, Natalie Mitchell, Gaia Sorcha Fenn, Kumiko Mendl, Nandita Ghose, Chi Thai, Nicola Baldwin, Verity Healey, John Smith, Kathrine Smith, Evelyn Lockley, Amelia Cavallo, Guleraana Mir, Amy Mason, Sabean Bea, Ashleigh Laurence, Amélie Roch, Nicola Sanderson, Delmozene Morris-Ley, Yasmeen Khan, Brenda Gilhooly, Sarah Cahill, Rukhsana Ahmad, Sarah Kosar, Laura McGrady, Merce Ribot, James Lorimer, Andy George Rachel Barnett, Chloe Ewart, Elizabeth Huxley, Jennifer Farmer, Kirsty Smith, Sarah Cullum, Pooja Ghai, Hannah Torrance, Rachel Smith, Marverine Cole, Jessica Mitic, Ben Davies ,Laura Davey, Phoebe Eclair-Powell, Tom Harvey, Kat Martin, Ella Greenhill, Chinonyerem Odimba, Zoe Cooper, Meredydd Barker, Sarah Hehir, Lucy Catherine, Tom Wentworth, Roxane Bourges, Claire Eden, Sandy Thomson, Kefi Chadwick, Polly Creed, Imy Wyatt Corner, Charlotte Ashton, Elizabeth Brockman, Jonathan Woodcock, Alex Ashton, Ishbel McFarlane, Tutku Barbaros, Jen McGregor, Dr. Jami Rogers, Louise Oliver, Ben Hough, Karen Cogan, Tallulah Brown, Fran Harris, Kate O’Reilly, Chris White, Helen Raynor, Lisa Gifford, Orianne Messina, Kat Woods, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Lilly Driscoll, David Ralf, Carol Russell, Sophia Compton, Olivia Hetreed, Amy McCallum, Jo Rush, Jemima Levick, Natasha Podro, Kay Stonham, Zoe Bullock, Jessie Salsbury, Honor Flaherty, Gill Page, Margaret Perry, Stef Smith, Laura Maydew-Gale, Emma Ko, Jennifer Tang, Sara Shaarawi, Christina Murdock, Rebekah Harrison, Kirsty Gillmore, Alexandra Wilson, Elspeth Turner, Erin McGee, Morna Young, Hannah Edie

225 signatures on Sunday 31 March at 9pm


In defence of Seyi Omooba

Actor Seyi Omooba

I find the furore surrounding the casting of Seyi Omooba in a gay role incomprehensible. Her opinions on homosexuality are a long way from my own views. It may be stating the obvious, but it seems necessary to say: an actor’s work involves playing characters other than themselves, perhaps characters very different from themselves. If an actor expresses a dislike of cricketers would that render them unfit to play a cricketer, or would an expressed dislike of socialists be a hindrance to portraying a socialist?

I am a fierce opponent of hunting with hounds – does that mean I could never play a passionate supporter of the hunt? I am reminded of a journalist, the late Ronald Butt, who expressed outrage because an actor cast in the role of Winston Churchill was deemed by his publicly expressed views to be unpatriotic. I found that as incomprehensible as I find the present controversy.

Peter Tomlinson
Shipley, West Yorkshire

I might have thought that someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be LGBT+ would benefit from playing a character who is.

Instead, having been fired from the show and her agency, and lambasted by industry commentators such as yourself, what positive association is she going to have with The Color Purple and whatever inclusive, humanising values she would have been exposed to therein?

An interesting journalistic exercise would have been to interview Omooba about her perspective after having rehearsed and played Celie (who is also a religious character).

Frank Browne
Via the stage.co.uk

I agree completely with the comments from Frank Browne (above). Seyi Omooba has been treated awfully. Young people, particularly in the black community, are often dazzled and surrounded by the views of the church – it is a cultural thing. To hold this woman accountable for writing something that would have been fed to her through church and her upbringing, resulting in a devastating effect on her career, is misplaced and abusive. I find this decision deeply distressing. My sympathy to you Seyi. The industry has treated you disgracefully.

Ayesha Casely-Hayford
Via the stage.co.uk


In Basildon was accurate show

Peter Temple, Beverley Klein and Lucy Benjamin in In Basildon at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch. Photo: Mark Sepple

As a former resident whose youngest daughter still lives in Basildon, I can assure Rosemary Waugh, who reviewed David Eldridge’s In Basildon at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch that the present occupants of the post-war town talk vociferously about the changes – not always for the better – that have occurred over the years. One only has to read the local newspaper or listen to BBC Essex to realise this.

The superbly performed play took me on a trip down memory lane, particularly the references to the Towngate Theatre – still home to the amdram group the Thalians with whom I had the pleasure of performing in the 1980s. Sadly, I recently attended the funeral of an actor friend from those days and at the wake, our recollections, both good and bad, of Basildon were discussed over drinks.

Waugh mentioned that In Basildon was part of an Essex On Stage season and some members of that cast also took part in spirited readings of plays by young writers from the county. My congratulations to all involved.

David J Savage
South Ockendon, Essex


Quotes of the week

Scottee

“Happy #WorldTheatreDay! I’d like to congratulate the majority of the sector on still not reaching working-class audiences despite 30 years-plus of subsidy. Shout out to the gatekeepers for creating an exclusionary workspace that favours their own. Love you guys. Byeee!” Artist and writer Scottee (Twitter)

 

“I see incredible talent with the men [in ballet] nowadays and, actually, the girls coming through are finding it hard to keep up with the guys.” Darcey Bussell on the changing nature of classical ballet (Oxford Literary Festival)

“I got into a drama class and it was the only class I was being celebrated for all the things that I was attacked for outside the classroom.” Theatremaker Travis Alabanza (Guardian)

“I’d worked on several musicals – Cats, Rocky Horror, My Fair Lady – all quite traditional. And there’s the thing with musicals, we often get the story right but not the music, or the music right but not the story.” Mamma Mia! producer Judy Craymer (Times)

“I had to fight quite hard, actually, to be taken seriously…Just because I’ve got long legs
doesn’t mean I can only do, like, long-legged parts! It’s ridiculous.” 
Actor Katherine Kingsley (Sunday Times)

“When we filmed Cats, [Idris Elba] kept saying to me: ‘Will you send me to the Heaviside Layer?’ And at one point I turned to him and said: ‘No – I’ll send you to MI6.’ ” Actor Judi Dench (Telegraph)

“It’s been such a long time coming after what happened – it’s so exciting to finally do it.” Louise Redknapp on making her postponed debut in 9 to 5 (Evening Standard)


Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.

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