Chiwetel Ejiofor leads Rufus Norris’ NT

Published January 21, 2015

Academy Award nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor will lead Rufus Norris’ first season as Director of the National Theatre to star in a new version of Everyman by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Announced today at a much-anticipated season launch by Director Designate Norris and Chief Executive Designate Tessa Ross, the pair laid down their ambitious plans for their first year leading the prestigious venue.

Confirming 20 productions for their inaugural year, the exciting line-up includes collaborations with acclaimed artists including directors Dominic Cooke, Jeremy Herrin and Lyndsey Turner, writers Alice Birch, Caryl Churchill and Patrick Marber, musician Damon Albarn and actors Ejiofor, Anne-Marie Duff and Daniel Mays, as well as a series of co-productions with regional companies.

Norris, who officially takes up the post from April, will open his tenure directing Duffy’s new adaptation of the 15th century primal myth Everyman in the Olivier Theatre from 22 April (press night 29 April).

Olivier Award winner Ejiofor, who earned critical acclaim for his BAFTA Award-winning role in 12 Years A Slave, returns to the National Theatre following 2000’s Blue/Orange to lead the production in the title role.

Asking whether it is only in death that we can understand our lives, the drama tells the story of Everyman, a successful and popular man who is forced to abandon his life on a desperate search to find a friend to speak in his defence when death comes calling.

The first of two Churchill plays in the season, Light Shining In Buckinghamshire, will play in the Lyttelton Theatre from 15 April (press night 23 April) under the direction of Lyndsey Turner, the acclaimed director behind the multi Olivier Award-winning play Chimerica.

Boasting a cast including Trystan Gravelle, who can currently be seen in Shakespeare’s Globe’s The Changeling, Joshua James (Treasure Island, NT), Amanda Lawrence (Damned By Despair, NT), Ashley McGuire (Home, NT), Simon Manyonda (King Lear, NT) and Alan Williams (War Horse), Churchill’s 1976 drama tells the story of the men and women who fought in the English Civil War and are now faced with food shortages, a corrupt political system and economic instability.

National Theatre regular Simon Godwin will then take to the helm to direct George Farquhar’s classic comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem in the Olivier Theatre from 19 May (press night 26 May).

The rollicking piece, which will follow Godwin’s forthcoming production of the Ralph Fiennes-led Man And Superman at the NT next month, tells the madcap story of two charming young men who are down on their luck after blowing their fortunes. Deciding the only way forward is to marry for money, they head to provincial Lichfield in search of wives, unaware that falling in love may prove their greatest obstacle.

From 3 June (press night 10 June), the Dorfman Theatre will see the premiere of Dealer’s Choice and Closer playwright Marber’s latest work, The Red Lion.

Directed by Jerusalem’s Ian Rickson, the new play about the dying romance of the great English game features a cast including acclaimed stage and screen actor Mays (Mojo, West End; The Same Deep Water As Me and Moonlight, Donmar Warehouse), former Hollyoaks actor Calvin Demba and Peter Wight, who was last seen at the Royal Court in In The Republic Of Happiness.

Exploring the “tender, savage love” that powers football, The Red Lion centres on semi-pro football, a world away from the wealth and the television cameras, where a brilliant young player is in the sights of an ambitious manager determined to make him his own.

Playing alongside the drama in the Lyttelton Theatre from 10 June (press night 17 June) will be the London premiere of US playwright, screenwriter, director and actor Stephen Adly Guirgis’ six-time Tony Award nominated comedy The Motherf**ker With The Hat.

Directed by the Tricycle Theatre’s Artistic Director Indhu Rubasingham, Guirgis’ poetic and hilarious New York-set fiery piece caused a stir when it opened on Broadway in 2011, earning critical acclaim for its darkly funny exploration of love and addition.  

The last production to have confirmed dates for the theatre’s Olivier space is Albarn’s new Alice In Wonderland-inspired musical wonder.land, which will feature a book and lyrics by Moira Buffini and be the second production in the season to be directed by Norris.

A co-production with Manchester International Festival, the magical musical about 12-year-old Aly and a virtual world full of strangely familiar and wonderfully eccentric people will play at the National Theatre in November following its premiere at the Manchester arts festival this summer.

Norris and Ross today also confirmed plans for the NT’s three main theatres into January 2016, with dates and casting to be announced for a further 10 productions.

July will see Marber direct his own “unfaithful” version of Ivan Turgenev’ A Month In The Country entitled Three Days In The Country in the Lyttelton Theatre, while August boasts both Nadia Fall’s new production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s classic Our Country’s Good in the Olivier Theatre and the premiere of Duncan Macmillian’s People, Places And Things in the Dorfman Theatre, directed by Headlong’s Artistic Director Herrin in a co-production with the acclaimed theatre company.

Moving into the autumn season, Bristol Old Vic will revive its acclaimed devised staging of Jane Eyre by director Sally Cookson in the Lyttelton Theatre in September, while Olivier Award nominee Duff will follow roles at the NT in productions including Strange Interlude and Saint Joan to lead War Horse director Marianne Elliott’s staging of DH Lawrence’s trilogy of mining dramas Husbands And Wives. Adapted into one play by Elliott’s fellow NT Associate Director Ben Power, the co-production with the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester will then transfer to the northern venue in February 2016.

Winter will see Polly Findlay follow her current NT production Treasure Island with Shakespeare’s As You Like It in the Olivier Theatre from November, the first NT major stage production of the comedy since 1980. Also opening in November are Roger Michell’s production of Harley Granville Barker’s political tragedy Waste (Lyttelton Theatre) and the premiere of acclaimed US playwright Wallace Shawn’s (The Fever, Aunt Dan And Lemon) Evening At The Talk House in the Dorfman Theatre.

In December, the NT will premiere the much-anticipated latest work by Churchill, one of the UK’s most acclaimed playwrights. Entitled Here We Go, the piece will play in the Dorfman Theatre and be directed by former Royal Court Artistic Director Cooke. The Olivier Award winner will then return in January 2016 to direct the first major revival of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom since its UK premiere at the NT in 1989.

Norris’ first season also sees the announcement of four summer productions staged in the eye-catching red structure outside the venue’s main building. Currently entitled the Temporary Theatre, the venue will be given a new name that is still to be announced.

From 28 April to 16 May, the space will host the transfer of Alexander Zeldin’s brutal  expose on zero-hour contracts, Beyond Caring, following its successful run at Hackney’s Yard Theatre.  

A new play about pornography by theatre company RashDash and Alice Birch, We Want You To Watch, follows from 11 June to 11 July, before Tim Crouch’s ground-breaking play An Oak Tree arrives for a 10th anniversary staging from 23 June to 11 July. Rounding up the season from 21 to 25 July is Islington Community Theatre’s Brainstorm: an exploration of the adolescent brain created with leading cognitive neuroscientist Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore performed by six young people.

Today’s much-anticipated press launch also included confirmation of who Norris and Ross have appointed as their all-important Associates. Explaining their decision making, Norris said: “We want to make the very best theatre and share it with as many people as possible… we’ve started by putting together a group of extraordinary performers, writers and theatremakers, led by our new team of Associates: [multi Olivier Award-winning Lighting Designer] Paule Constable, Dominic Cooke, Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris, Ben Power and Lyndsey Turner.”

Their plans for the first year clearly demonstrate the pair’s desire for the theatre to forge new relationships with regional theatres and companies. Norris said: “The work we make over the coming years will strive to be as open, as diverse, as collaborative and as national as possible. We want to inspire artists and audiences to think in new ways, to constantly re-imagine the act of making theatre. This first season is just a beginning, but it contains the seeds of what is to come.”

The new team also confirmed today that the theatre’s hugely popular partnership with Travelex will continue, with more than 100,000 tickets available at £15. The Friday Rush ticketing scheme trialled with disco musical Here Lies Love, in which an online allocation of £20 tickets for the following week’s performance is released every Friday at 13:00, will also continue and be extended to all productions in the Olivier, Lyttelton, Dorfman and Temporary Theatres.

“We hope there is something here for everyone,” Norris explained, “whether they’ve been to the National many times or are thinking about their first visit. We look forward to welcoming them all.”

“We hope there is something here for everyone, whether they’ve been to the National many times or are thinking about their first visit.”