National Theatre – Too Much Public Money?

Convener(s): Amy Ip 

Participants: Christina Elliot, Sam Hall, Emma Newborn, Monica Dolan, Joe Austin, Caroline Pearce

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The question asked was: National Theatre – Too Much Public Money? This was prompted by Amy’s analysis of the National Theatre’s Annual Report and the 2010 schedule of proposed plays. Currently the National received £18.9 million from the Arts Council of England (ACE) and though the 2010 schedule does have five new plays, they are also doing: Women Beware Women, Hamlet and a Sir Peter Hall production of Twelfth Night with his daughter Rebecca Hall.

It is important to note that the purpose of this session was not to slam the National Theatre but analyse whether the monies that are the National Theatre’s pot are being used in an appropriate manner.

It seems as though the National are playing rather “safe” in the current economic climate and are not doing enough to encourage new plays.

However, Christina Elliot’s company: Fuel, will be going to the National next week for ten performances of a new work. Christina noted that the National though very helpful seemed to be overstaffed in the fact that there appeared to be about three people doing the same job.

It was noted that perhaps the National could pare down it’s staffing costs and maybe there should be much more accountability in how they spend their monies.

It was also noted that maybe the National should have it’s public funding cut so that the general ACE pot of money would be bigger and could be shared around more evenly to new productions.

Monica Dolan put forward the idea that instead of cutting the pot of money so that it was down to the ACE to be the arbitrators, maybe the National should be put on a stricter budget and then any “leftover” money would be given to a National nominated theatre company to then develop new work. This would mean that the funding decisions would be placed in the hands of the artist rather than the Council.

Joe Austin contended that the National serves a useful purpose in the fact that it is our flagship theatre, however maybe it should be more of a national theatre by embracing theatre from other parts of the country as currently the National is very London and tourist centric and does not encompass what the Regions are doing.

It was generally acknowledged that the problem with the National is that it’s scheduling is too “safe” and though they will be producing five new plays, the emphasis still seems to be about tried and tested plays. As a National theatre, more innovative work should be addressed.

The National do a lot of workshops but it seems that not enough monies is invested into creating more new work from these.

It was also suggested that if the National’s funds were cut, it might actually force MORE and not less creative output as it would force the artistic team to think more creatively and more stringent in how they output high quality work without wastage.