Earlier today, the Glasgow-based theatre maker Vickie Beesley tweeted a sign, spotted outside the National Theatre (on that statue of Olivier as Henry V, I'm guessing). This is what it says:
And quite right too. Rufus Norris has to improve on his predecessor's lamentable record in directing plays by women.
In fact, the National Theatre has a pretty poor track record for programming plays by women. The first show with any kind of textual contribution by a woman to hit the South Bank is probably Candleford which was adapted by Keith Dewhurst in 1979 from the book by Flora Thompson. The first play by a woman to grace any of the three main stages was Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine in the Lyttelton in 1980. The first new play by a woman was Neaptide by Sarah Daniels in 1986, almost a quarter of a century after the National Theatre was founded. The first new play by a woman to make the largest stage at the National, the Olivier, was Rebecca Lenkiewicz's Her Naked Skin in 2008, a full 32 years after the Olivier opened. At the National's lavish 50th anniversary gala, there was only one play by a woman represented: London Road by Alecky Blythe (and, let's not forget, the composer Adam Cork). But sadly, they didn't have very much to choose from. The National has been pretty bad at putting women's plays on its stages.
But I was wondering whether it's fair to single our Nick Hytner. I thought I'd check. How much better did Nick's predecessors do?
The answer is: very badly. In fact, you want to know something shocking? Only once has a sitting artistic director of the National Theatre directed a play by a woman. Hands up if you know the director and the play?
I'll tell you. In 1968, Laurence Olivier co-directed The Advertisement by Natalia Ginzburg at the Old Vic.
And that's it. It was 47 years ago.
Put another way, neither Peter Hall, nor Richard Eyre, nor Trevor Nunn nor Nick Hytner ever directed a play by a woman. Not a single play by a woman has been directed by the artistic director at the National's home on the South Bank since it opened almost 40 years ago. And Ginzburg's play was co-directed. The artistic director of the National Theatre has only ever directed half of a play by a woman.
Let’s just compare this with the record of the National Theatre of Scotland. Since its foundation in 2006, Vicky Featherstone has directed Abi Morgan’s 27, Sam Holcroft’s Cockroach, Cathy Forde's Empty and Zinnie Harris’s The Wheel, while Laurie Samson has directed the three plays that made up Rona Munro’s The James Plays. There may be more but in only 9 years, they are doing twelve-and-a-half times better than the National Theatre in London has done in 51 years.
Seriously, Rufus, this is an open goal. You could change this horrible record by the end of the year. Do it!
UPDATE: The actor Nick Holder has just pointed out to me that Rufus Norris's first directing job as AD is Everyman in a new version by Carol Ann Duffy. Which is great and she'll undoubtedly have done a very strong new version. It would still be great to see a play wholly authored by a woman directed by the artistic director though, right?