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OL 05 – Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett at the Olivier Awards 2005

Bennett, Pratchett and Kureishi further National’s ambitions

Published 14 January 2009

A new play by Alan Bennett and adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s Nation and Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album are among the latest shows to join the National Theatre’s 2009 line-up.

Nation will be the National’s family show for 2009, following the success of previous family-friendly productions His Dark Materials, Coram Boy and War Horse, which transfers to the New London theatre in March. Nation is the latest novel by Pratchett, the author of the popular Discworld series. Described by National Theatre Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner as “a wonderful book and, I suspect, perfect for an Olivier adaptation”, Nation is set on a desert island following a tsunami which wiped out most of the population. The stage version, which opens in the Olivier theatre in November, is adapted for an audience as young as nine by playwright Mark Ravenhill and directed by Coram Boy’s Melly Still.
Bennett returns to the National following the huge success of his Laurence Olivier and Tony Award-winning play The History Boys with a new, as yet untitled, work which will open in the Lyttelton theatre in November. It is directed by Hytner, who revealed that the new play centres on the last years of W H Auden and imagines a fictional meeting between the poet and the composer Benjamin Britten.

Also joining the Lyttelton line-up, Caryl Churchill’s Three More Sleepless Nights will have a short run of performances at 18:00 in August, following on from the National’s 18:00 scheduling last summer of Pinter’s Landscape and A Slight Ache.

In the Cottesloe in July, Hanif Kureishi adapts his own 1998 novel The Black Album for the stage, in a co-production with Tara Arts, directed by the company’s Artistic Director Jatinder Verma. Described by Hytner as an “extraordinarily prescient” novel, The Black Album centres on the experiences of a young British Muslim attending college in London in 1989, the year Salman Rushdie was issued with a fatwa for The Satanic Verses.

Also joining the Cottesloe repertoire in October, Katie Mitchell directs Ferdinand Bruckner’s The Pains Of Youth. Mitchell is an Artistic Associate at the National whose many productions for the venue include The Seagull, Women Of Troy, Waves and last year’s …Some Trace Of Her.

Further casting has also been announced for the 2009 season. Dominic Cooper (The History Boys) joins Helen Mirren and Margaret Tyzack in Hytner’s new production of Phedre, which opens in June; Clare Higgins (Oedipus) and Conleth Hill (Philistines) are among the cast of Marianne Elliott’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well; and Anna Chancellor (Never So Good, Creditors) and James Fleet join the cast of Matt Charman’s new play The Observer.

Before that, Nonso Anozie, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Jenny Jules and Lucian Msamati will appear in Rufus Norris’s production of Death And The King’s Horseman, which opens the Travelex £10 season in the Olivier theatre in February. Director Norris is joined by his Cabaret choreographer Javier De Frutos for this production of Wole Soyinka’s drama.

Hytner also confirmed that Donmar Warehouse Artistic Director Michael Grandage, who was due to direct Danton’s Death this season before leaving the project to take over directorial duties on Hamlet at the Wyndham’s theatre, will instead make his National Theatre debut with the same production in 2010.

After what has been a successful past six months for the National Theatre, with 93% attendance, Hytner said he had no plans to curtail the venue’s ambition in the face of the current economic climate. It was “essential”, he said, to keep planning productions that may at first seem “barking mad” but end up becoming great successes, in order to maintain the public’s faith in the venue. “I don’t know how to play it safe,” he said.

Hytner’s ambition continues with NT Live, a new project aiming to give greater access to National Theatre productions. The venue is planning to team up with the Picturehouse cinema chain and other arthouse cinemas to stage one-off live satellite broadcasts of four National Theatre productions, beginning this summer with Helen Mirren’s performance in Phedre. Tickets will be priced at around £10 at the 50 venues across the country where the production will be shown live. The performances may also be broadcast internationally, at venues in Canada, the US and possibly elsewhere, within 24 hours.

“It felt to us that somebody had to try this,” commented Hytner. The theatre is currently seeking sponsorship to support the approximate £50,000 cost per broadcast.



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