National Theatre: Lesley Manville and Maxine Peake to star in new season

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Lesley Manville will star in an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit

Actress Lesley Manville is among the stars who will appear in the National Theatre’s new season.

She will star in a Jeremy Herrin-directed adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit.

Manville was Oscar nominated last year for her role in Phantom Thread, and won an Olivier for best actress in 2014.

Other highlights of the new season include Mercury Prize-nominated artist Kate Tempest, who is making her National Theatre debut with Paradise.

The play will be a reimagining of Philoctetes by Sophocles and open in July 2020.

Elsewhere, Maxine Peake will star in Lucy Kirkwood’s new play The Welkin.

My Brilliant Friend, based on the novel by the elusive author Elena Ferrante, will be re-worked for the NT’s Olivier Theatre following its sell-out run at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

Other highlights of the new season include:

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Kate Tempest will reimagine Philoctetes by Sophocles

  • Francesca Martinez makes her playwriting debut with All of Us – in which she will also play the lead role
  • Clint Dyer makes his NT writing and directing debut with Death of England – making him the first black British artist to have acted, written and directed at the National Theatre
  • NT Artist in Residence Alexander Zeldin returns with Faith, Hope and Charity, completing his trilogy of plays about life on the margins of society. The second, titled Love, was adapted for TV last year
  • A new edition of Ex Machina’s epic The Seven Streams of the River Ota, directed by Robert Lepage, returns to the NT as part of a world tour
  • Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane will be adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd

Speaking at the press launch, the NT’s artistic director Rufus Norris and executive director Lisa Burger also discussed whether ticket prices are cheap enough to keep them accessible to the general public.

The National Theatre’s scheme to offer £15 tickets was thrown into doubt last year when it was announced that Travelex was pulling out as a sponsor.

“We’re still looking for the right sponsor,” explained Burger. “But in the mean time we’re able to continue to make available nearly 30% of our tickets at £20 or less.”

The issue of sponsorship of the arts has been controversial recently. In March, The Tate said it would no longer take donations from Sackler, after claims its fortune is linked to the opioid crisis in the US.

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Maxine Peake will star in Lucy Kirkwood’s new play The Welkin

Turner Prize sponsor Stagecoach has also been under fire after it came to light its chairman Sir Brian Souter was in favour of a ban on LGBT lessons in Scottish schools, while protests took place this week at the National Portrait Gallery, against its sponsorship from oil giant BP.

“We’ve got a fundraising policy and we look at who we’re going to work with on a case-by-case basis,” Burger said.

“We don’t currently have any live sponsorship negotiations with either of those companies [BP or Sackler].

“And we look at things in accordance with our donations policy, which is governed by the board and available on our website.”

Gender balance

The National Theatre was criticised for its last programme announcement, which exclusively featured male playwrights.

Presenter Sandi Toksvig suggested the venue should change its name to The Theatre, to reflect its staging of “plays by boys, directed by boys, about boys”.

More than 200 playwrights also signed a letter to the NT, which said it was “time to stop talking about it and start programming us [women]”.

Reflecting on the criticism at Thursday’s press launch, Norris said the programme for the whole year should be taken into account, adding that it was unfortunate timing that one batch of announcements solely featured men.

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Sandi Toksvig is among those that criticised the previous all-male programme

“For us, the principal lesson actually is when we look at the balance of gender or representation across the programme, we look at a year,” he explained.

“So today, we’re announcing 12-14 productions, that’s half of our output for a year, and the previous one was for a much shorter period.

“The real learning from it is that these announcements are strong gestures, and it’s important for us to understand that and realise that every time we make an announcement, that can be read on its own.

“So rather than just thinking about the year, from then on we have been thinking about reaching out as it comes up and making sure there is some representation within that.”

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