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Macbeth | Rehearsal gallery

Macbeth | Trailer

Watch Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff in the trailer for Macbeth, playing in the Olivier Theatre from 26 February 2018.

More info

From 2017 winning play, Dead Don’t Floss

Scene 3: Floss


Alex goes back to making her bed with a sort of faded energy slowly returning to her.

Alex (to the audience) One thing that I really do find hilarious, and I say this genuinely, is my father. He’s like a caricature of an awkward dad. It’s astounding.

Her dad hovers at the edge of the door.

Alex He never remembers to knock until he has already come into the room and looked around a bit. He’s not being a tactical genius, he’s just really not practiced in the art of excessive politeness.

As she says this he enters the room, looks around a bit, then knocks sloppily on the door frame without looking.

Alex (to the audience) He always makes a kind of unnecessary comment, like small talk. Really, really small talk. Especially for the man from whom I get half of my genetic material and who has raised me since birth.

Dad I like what you’ve done with it. (He roughly gestures to the entire bedroom).

Alex Thanks Dad, you were here yesterday. (He nods but doesn’t actually react as she turns back to the audience) Nothing has changed since yesterday.

He walks slowly over to down stage left and hesitates looking around the floor.

Alex He will never sit on my bed, there’s no reason why, he just won’t. So instead, he’ll improvise. Inventively. He once decided to do a kind of awkward squat, like PE teachers do to demonstrate their athleticism. He was very committed. Think that’s why he has trouble with his knees now.

He spots a laundry basket piled high with clothes and slowly perches on it, not really letting his full weight rest. He is half facing the audience, somehow not quite able to face his daughter.

Alex Now, he’s going to ask me something wildly out-dated. Not only in terms of my life but also in terms of general society.

Dad How are your O-levels getting along then?

Alex Or, something completely arbitrary.

Dad Are you flossing? Flossing is really important.

Alex Or, if he’s feeling confident, he’ll make a clunky attempt at getting in touch with his feminine side.

Dad Do you need any (it’s difficult for him to say) tampons or sanitary towels or…bras or anything?

Alex Or, he might even ask about one of my friends. He’ll always get their name wrong. Without fail. But never wildly wrong, in fact it almost seems deliberate.

Dad And how is my buddy Neymar?

Alex It’s Naima, Dad. Neymar’s the weirdly attractive Brazilian football player.

Dad (suddenly turning to face her) You find him attractive? Really?

Alex (to audience) Of course, his protectiveness extends to twenty-something year-old Brazilian football stars that might pick me up in, I don’t know, an Oxfam or a Nando’s on the high street or something. (To dad) Of course not, I’ve just heard some people say that at school (he nods, reassured).

Long pause – the mood shifts, she is no longer delivering her stand up, and is staring straight at him.

Alex Normally, he would make an excuse to leave now, feeling satisfied that I’m coming along nicely. But not today. Today he’s just sitting there. His face looks weird.

He is staring at his hands and she is staring at him, standing centre stage, facing him directly. 

Dad Alex, I really need you to come today. I’m not going to ask you again, or force you, but just please know, that I really bloody need you today.

Alex I usually hate it when adults use swearwords to try and connect with you because they think that if you’re under 18 you speak exclusively in the language of angst. But the thing is he’s crying. My dad is crying, he’s sitting on a pile of my clothes and crying, and it’s all I can do not to scream at him and ask him to pull himself together because he’s my dad, he’s supposed to be strong and big and there but he really isn’t. And neither am I. And I think he swore because he really needed to, and I think he wanted to say more than bloody but even now he’s trying to protect me from the f-word, because he’s realised he can’t protect me from the rest of it.

Dad (his body is convulsing and he turns to face her, shrunk by her uncomfortably rigid figure) Alex, please, I had three children a week ago, now I’ve lost one forever, I can’t lose you as well.

Alex (She looks at him for a very long time and then slowly walks over to him and sits on the floor with her back leaning against him and the laundry basket)

I’m doing A-levels now and O-levels haven’t existed for ages.

Beat

I don’t floss. To be honest I don’t know anyone who does apart from you (they both laugh, despite both of their tears).

Beat

I have plenty of feminine hygiene products and bras, and Naima is doing okay except she worries about me and she misses Ab.

Beat

Thank you for asking.

Beat

And thank you for not asking how I am.

He looks down at her and a hint of a smile traces his lips, they make eye contact for a second and then both look away. He puts his hand on her head.

They remain like this for a few seconds and then he leaves and she moves to sit with her back against the cupboard.

 

New Views is one of many National Theatre Learning projects aimed at supporting and inspiring the next generation of theatre makers.

National Theatre Learning projects are made possible through support from legacy gifts. To find out about how legacies have a lasting impact visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/legacy-giving

The National Theatre is a proud supporter of Remember a Charity.

Find out more about what this means and how we got involved in Remember a Charity Week.

Proud Supporters of Remember A Charity in your Will Week 11-17 September 2017

Tell us about how you’ve come to be an apprentice at the National Theatre?

I think my story is usual in that I knew I didn’t want to go on to university and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go on to next once I’d done my A-Levels. I was leaning towards childcare but I also loved fashion alongside it, and the school I was at was a performing arts school, so I used to help backstage there when they had performances.

My fashion teacher actually found this apprenticeship for me, and she said ‘Why not go for it?’. I got an interview and as I went through the stages and realised exactly what it was about, I went ‘OK, this is really interesting’, and I wanted it more and more. And when I finally got through to the final I thought ‘Right, this is mine, I’m going to get it’.

What news skills have you learned during your time at the National so far?

Being an apprentice is so good because I’m learning. I’m doing so much that I’ve never done before. I’m getting paid to do that, and I get qualifications and experience all in one. I had one main interview, another where I had to bring some work, then a skills test at college and a skills test here. I’d done the fashion, but I’d never done anything to do with hair and makeup before so I was treading on eggshells – wondering what I should do, what can I do to – before understanding from the panel that, OK, I can do this sort of thing.

What has been the most exciting show/project you’ve worked on?

I’ve done a couple of shows now, mainly in prosthetics work. Recently I’ve worked on dog bites, scratches, a scene with disembowelling..! These were all part of my role, my responsibility, which was big for me considering I’ve never done anything like this before – it was getting in at the deep end. But I liked it because it was a challenge and they’d trusted me to do it – I was going to prove them right.

For the guts, we made a prosthetic belly piece with Velcro and elastic at the back, with a slit in it. We made intestines from tissue paper and silicone, that went in with blood – we made blood bags, for stabbings…quite a lot of prep for the show. We got some good reactions online!

I also did hairstyling on Twelfth Night, basic pieces such as plaits, but picking up bits from the plot that weren’t able to be covered by the main two stylists. We have half an hour before the show, but for an NT Live we take a lot longer to get ready, we check everything, check that everything’s blended properly. No eyeliner out of shape, no lip-liner over lipped...

I think the next project might be Pinocchio, but in the meantime I start doing a hairdressing course, which is also funded by the NT through the apprenticeship scheme. When I come back I’ll be here full time until the end of my apprenticeship, and I’ll be able to practice and show what I've learnt, I’ll be able to email round and say ‘Who wants to come and get their hair styled for free, who wants to help me out?’

When I go home in the evenings, I want to practice and learn more, I involve my friends. I even bought myself a mannequin head to practice when I get some downtime.

 

What is it like working in the NT’s workshops?

The atmosphere in the workshops is great, really fun. And I pick up so much from so many different people; everyone can offer a different way of doing things. For example, when I was going to learn to weave weft for the first time, I learnt to do it one way and then someone said ‘Have you tried doing it like this?’ I’m learning from people who have more recently come into the industry and people who have been in the industry for years; it’s great to have all this input into what I’m doing and to learn to work differently with different people.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

I think my biggest challenge was actually doing the technical rehearsals for Common, because I really didn’t know what a ‘tech’ was until that point – but I was learning, in the moment, and it was a lot of fun. When you’re backstage on a show, you’re backstage for the whole show; it’s a really good vibe. When I’m scheduled on a show, sometimes I’ll be in for ten hours during the day, eleven hours. You come in, set your wigs, your prosthetics, whatever you need to do for the show in the evening and then do the show itself.

What do you think apprenticeships give to the National Theatre?

I think apprenticeships give the National a chance to interact with the younger generation. Before I did the apprenticeship, I didn’t go to the theatre, it wasn’t on my radar, it wasn’t part of what I was doing. But now that I’m in it, I’m watching more theatre and I’m getting my friends along to watch it and they’re more interested in what I'm doing. I’ve got a couple of friends who have gone for apprenticeships in other departments here off the back of what I’ve been doing.

Having apprenticeships in the workshops is really beneficial because I see people go back over what they haven’t looked at for years and they learn again. I bring in things that they learn, we bounce off each other.

How do you think your career will progress once you have finished your apprenticeship? What would you like your next step to be?

I would like to stay here, I enjoy it here. If I couldn’t stay then I’d like to do a bit of West End, see how that happens, because obviously they don’t have the hours that we do, but then they don’t have the workshop and making environment, they go in in the evening to do the same thing each night in running the show. I’d also like to do some film and tv because obviously they’re dealing in a lot more precise and intricate detail, so I’d like to see how that works.

I’d like to tread about a bit and see what’s out there for me and where I fit in most.

What advice would you give to the next set of apprentices to start working here?

I would say to the next set of apprentices, get as much out of it as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to do anything, don’t be scared to say, ‘I want to try that’, don’t hold back – you’re here to learn and people are here to educate you. Take the chances – you’ve been given this great opportunity. In my case, I was lucky enough that the programme was here and to be the one chosen out of all those applicants, and I'm not going to waste that.
 

Apprenticeships are one of many National Theatre projects that support and inspire the next generation of theatre makers.

Apprenticeships are funded by generous gifts from supporters, including those who have honoured the National Theatre by making a gift in their will. To find out about how legacies have a lasting impact visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/legacy-giving

The National Theatre is a proud supporter of Remember a Charity.

Find out more about what this means and how we got involved in Remember a Charity Week.

Proud Supporters of Remember A Charity in your Will Week 11-17 September 2017

Tom Fox
Director, UROCK Creative

My personal Connections story starts as a youth theatre attendee and ends as a professional director – a path I had not seen coming but one that Connections completely opened up for me in 2006. The programme offered us a substantial production to dig our teeth into (Pack Up Your Troubles by Snoo Wilson) and a chance to present it to our parents and friends and share it with other like-minded young people in a different venue. It was exciting and daunting but so rewarding. Not expecting it at all, we discovered that these plays were making us talk about being young people today in a way that we’d never done before. We presented a comedy by Laline Paull the next year and quite a challenging piece by Peter Tabern the year after – discovering, as we went, how diverse the Connections collection of plays really is.

I eventually went on to run a youth theatre company, and there was only one project I thought would capture the imagination and ambition of our young people. We have participated in Connections every year since 2011 when we presented Bassett by James Graham. We also performed Ailie and the Alien by Morna Pearson in 2013 and Remote by Stef Smith in 2015 at the National Theatre, which was an amazing experience for both me and the company. This year as we perform Gargantua by Carl Grose, the most exciting moment for us will be when we share our work at Norwich Playhouse, where all the youth theatres in our region will celebrate what we have done together.

Because of the professional practitioners I’ve worked with through Connections and the practitioners that have seen UROCK Youth Theatre’s work, I have now started directing professionally. I will always be thankful to Connections and engage with it in many ways in the future. To all those participating in Connections this year, I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world – and never stop playing.


William Homer
Connections participant, Dudley College

From that first read through of the script, to your audition and all the way to opening night, Connections is an amazing experience and working on it for the past two years has allowed me to excel as an actor. Getting to work with extremely talented people and then putting the play that you put your blood, sweat and tears into, out there for people to see is extremely rewarding.

Through Connections, Dudley College allowed me and my fellow students to express ourselves and as a result I really feel like the productions we’ve created are truly ours. Taking our pieces to Warwick Arts Centre was another jaw-dropping experience. Seeing everyone else’s hard work alongside presenting your own is what’s incredible about this project – people you’ve never met before wow you with their amazing ideas and different approaches to a range of plays.

I have loved being a part of Connections and I can’t wait to see how far we can take Blackout this year. We have all worked incredibly hard and I want to thank Andy, Ian, Karl and the cast for creating amazing memories and lasting friendships.

 

Peter Hussey
Artistic Director, Kildare Youth Theatre

Being involved in Connections for over 13 years has really shaped how Kildare Youth Theatre has evolved. It has helped us focus on international collaborations as we learn so much from working with other cultures, audiences, and professionals. It geared our thinking to always making theatre for more than a local audience.

Our productions of plays by Jon Fosse, Laline Paull, Fausto Paravidino and many more writers from the Connections portfolio introduced the work of these and other great writers to Irish audiences for the first time.

The emotional, educational and professional development of the young people has been almost entirely shaped by positive Connections experiences:

‘Performing in Connections at the National Theatre meant the world to me. It was the best time of my life. I genuinely couldn’t believe that we were asked to perform there because it seemed to be something that just doesn’t happen to normal teenagers like us.

Arriving at the National was very surreal. I was so overwhelmed, I just couldn’t wait to get inside the next day and perform. We were treated like professionals – having proper stage hands backstage with us was such a strange, yet great feeling. I really felt like they genuinely wanted us to be there, that all they wanted was for us to perform our best and have a perfect show. It was the time of my life.’

For Kildare Youth Theatre, Connections is at the heart of what we do.

Joanna Scotcher
Connections Participant in 2006, Set Designer

The off-stage world of set design is mostly unseen and so often a little misunderstood, but in the process of creating of a 'real' show, it’s utterly essential. I think it’s fair to say that Connections made it REAL for me.

Like all burgeoning directors or actors, young designers are obsessed with their art. They are ravenous and stay up all night creating worlds in their sketchbooks, but there is a huge journey to take from page to stage. Unlike actors we don’t tread the boards but rather traverse the scenic workshops, the paint frames, the costume departments, the prop stores and the rehearsal rooms. The Connections festival opened a door and let me into this extraordinary world beyond. This is what’s so vital and unique about the festival – it truly understands the whole process is a collaborative one.

As a first time set designer, I was supported through that process and we then we on to take our company to London to perform on our set on the Cottesloe [now Dorfman] stage. It was an amazing first experience of this world and one that has inspired and driven me in my career ever since.

The Connections Festival is one of many National Theatre Learning projects aimed at supporting and inspiring the next generation of theatre makers.

National Theatre Learning projects are made possible through support from legacy gifts. To find out about how legacies have a lasting impact visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/legacy-giving

The National Theatre is a proud supporter of Remember a Charity.

Find out more about what this means and how we got involved in Remember a Charity Week.

Proud Supporters of Remember A Charity in your Will Week 11-17 September 2017

Remember A Charity Week

From 11 to 17 September, the National took part in Remember A Charity Week by dedicating performances across the week to the NT Treasures (a group of over 170 audience members who have chosen to support the NT with a gift in their Will).

This year’s campaign urged the public to ‘have your say on the world you want to pass on’, inspiring people to pass on something even more special – a gift in their Will. We reached out to our own community of NT Treasures, who have pledged to leave a gift to the National Theatre in their Will, to ask them what kind of world they hoped their gift would pass on.

Through their words we hope we can inspire more people to consider supporting the NT in this special way:

 

‘I'd like to pass on a world where young people can engage with theatre and the arts from school days.’
Monica

‘I'd like to pass on a world where new generations can find the inspiration and delight in theatre. I'd like to help keep ticket prices low so that our National Theatre continues to be able to cater for everyone .’
Susan

‘I'd like to pass on a world where the wonder and brilliance of theatre is available to all.’
Stuart

'I'd like to pass on a world where other people of all generations can experience the joy of seeing theatrical productions of great variety and outstanding quality.’
Wendy

‘I'd like to pass on a world where live theatre with all its excitement and inspiration and in all its variety of form still flourishes and is available at low prices for all to be able to attend and enjoy.’
Anne
 


If you would like to learn more about the impact that legacy gifts gifts can have on our work  read our legacy brochure. 

To find out more about becoming an NT Treasure or to inform us that you have included the NT in your Will, contact Tamara Wijesekara on twijesekara@nationaltheatre.org.uk or 020 7452 3915.

Welcome


In July our Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings, exhibitions and talks marked 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales by looking at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience. The River Stage Festival returned to bring the very best live acts to the South Bank and we were honoured to have War Horse puppet Joey take part in in the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaele.

 

As we move forward from the successes of the summer, this month’s National Theatre Magazine gives you an exclusive insight into some of the plans for the Dorfman Theatre, which celebrated its 1000th performance in August. As he prepares to bring his highly acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles back to the NT, Inua Ellams tells us about the literal journey that brought him to meet the dexterous philosophers and counsellors who inspired the characters of his play. Director Polly Findlay, now a familiar face at the NT, talks to young director Katharine Farmer about her upcoming work on David Eldridge’s intimate new play, Beginning. And Tim Levy from NT America talks about the process of bringing the double Olivier Award-winning People, Places and Things to St Ann’s Warehouse in New York. 

Contents

Inside the Barber Shop with Inua Ellams
Writer Inua Ellams speaks to Sarah Brener about how his own background inspired this extraordinary new work.

Polly Findlay: Beginning at the National
Young director Katharine Farmer asks how  the NT Studio prepared her to tackle first the Olivier, and now the more intimate space of the Dorfman.

Playwrights of the Future: New Views
We celebrate the success of the NT’s annual playwriting programme for 14-19-year-olds, with a scene from this year’s winning entry.

Taking America with Tim Levy
Jenny Morris gets an insight into how the NT’s relationship with the US has evolved and the processes involved in transferring a production to America.

National Conversations: the National Theatre Podcast
Our podcast series connects you to the productions and discussions taking place inside the National Theatre and beyond.

Inua Ellams

Inside the Barber Shop with Inua Ellams 
 

Sarah Brener
Freelance Writer

 

Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles is one of the NT’s biggest hits this year, with a sell-out run in the Dorfman, a season at West Yorkshire Playhouse, and further National Theatre performances being lined up for November. But while it may seem like an overnight success story, the play has been many years in the making, as the writer himself explains.


Barber Shop Chronicles has a long, personal history and two main things happened to me years ago which influenced the development of this play,’ says Inua. ‘When I left Nigeria with my family my father and I stopped going to barber shops as money was a little bit tight, so I cut my father’s hair and he would cut mine. We no longer accessed these spaces where black men went and I eventually forgot about them.

‘Some years later, I was given a flyer about a project spearheaded by the NHS to teach barbers the basics of counselling. It surprised me that conversations there could get so intimate that the NHS felt it was important to teach counselling skills, but an intense curiosity drove me to listen to those conversations.’

Isayo Akinade, Sule Rimi and Cyril Nri, rehearsing Barber Shop Chronicles. Photographer: Marc Brenner
_____________________

As he hadn’t been around barber shops for such a long time, Ellams felt uncomfortable about the idea of going there without a clear reason. But with support from theatre producers Fuel and a two-week attachment at the NT Studio, he was able to visit barber shops in the evenings and spend the mornings transcribing the conversations he had witnessed. His ambition didn’t end there.

‘In typical Nigerian fashion, I wanted to go bigger, so I said, ‘Let’s go to countries in Africa and see if the same types of conversation are also found there’. For six weeks I went travelling with a backpack and a dictaphone. The combination of all of these conversations is how the play came together.

‘The barbers in the UK and the countries I visited in Africa were the brokers of all of my relationships. Once I got them on side, they would introduce me to their clients. In typical Nigerian style, if your father has a friend, he is suddenly your uncle. Once the barber trusted me, all his clients were my friends and the barbers would bring me into their conversations. Without them the project would not exist; and various issues of belonging that I have had since I left Nigeria in 1996 were there in the conversations I found in the barbers’, which is why they exist in the characters on stage.’

Barber Shop Chronicles rehearsals at the National Theatre. Photographer:  Marc Brenner
__________________
 

Ellams’ travels resulted in around 60 to 70 hours’ worth of conversations – leading to the equally mammoth task of cutting, editing and shaping them into the beginnings of a play. He was aided in this by the NT’s Literary department which helped him to redefine and reduce the text as well as give it a sense of dramatic momentum.

‘My first draft was about four hours long so it obviously had to be cut considerably. It was a long process and I got rid of whole scenes. There were 14 drafts of the play in the end. When I was writing the initial drafts, and wondering how I could get from one scene to another, I thought of three plays I had seen with beautiful movement on stage. The first was The Brothers Size at the Young Vic, then The Kitchen and Our Class here at the National. I didn’t know at the time that all three were directed by Bijan Sheibani who directed Barber Shop Chronicles.’ 

Ellams’ career had begun in performance poetry and reached a peak in 2008 when he did 133 shows.  However, he had something of a ‘lightning bulb’ moment while performing under difficult conditions at Glastonbury Festival and soon realised that he needed to work in an environment where he could achieve much more control.

‘I wrote a play called The 14th Tale which debuted at the Arcola Theatre and then transferred to the Edinburgh Festival where it won a Fringe First. It transferred the following year to the Cottesloe here at the National. This is when I was immersed in theatre. When I was performing The 14th Tale here, a remarkable thing happened in that a man left a package for me at the Stage Door which turned out to be photographs of my great-uncle, who had somewhat vanished from our lives. I gave it to my dad, who just wept as we saw them. I still feel like I am finding various types of families in the audience at the National Theatre.


'I still don’t feel like a playwright but I also feel that I don’t belong in the poetry world either.'


‘After that, I created three other one-man shows, the last of which was Black T-Shirt Collection. I slowly began to write for more voices on stage and Barber Shop Chronicles is my largest piece to date.

‘I still don’t feel like a playwright but I also feel that I don’t belong in the poetry world. The theatre world thinks I am a bit too performance-y and the poetry world thinks I am a bit too stage-y. I am on the outskirts of both worlds. When theatres want to commission work, they are not quite sure what I am going to do – and often I don’t know either!’

Although Barber Shop Chronicles has proved to be a hit with audiences and critics alike, Ellams and the team were not completely sure what kind of reception the play was going to receive at the first preview.


'The applause from the audience completely startled us.'


‘Going into this show felt like a risk as we couldn’t predict anything. I remember after the very first preview, the applause from the audience completely startled us. The tickets sold so wellthat at the last performance at the NT, I couldn’t get one and the stage manager had to build seats into the rig for me. I am pleased that it is returning because there are lots of people who couldn’t see it and who need to see it.

Anthony Welsh and Inua Ellams in rehearsals for Barber Shop Chronicles. Photographer: Marc Brenner
___________________________

‘At press night, I saw a young man opposite me and his shoulders drooped at the close of the play because he completely identified with everything the character of Ethan said. This moved me to find him afterwards and thank him because he was clearly going through so much of what I had gone through when writing. And a friend of mine in the audience saw two men, one white and older and one black and younger, nodding and responding to the same things. Folks of seemingly diverse backgrounds have responded strongly to the play.’

ETHAN:              Audition tomorrow…I won’t get it. I don’t look the part.
EMMANUEL:      What's the part?
ETHAN:              A black man. (beat) A strong black man.
EMMANUEL:      (laughs) You are overqualified.
ETHAN:              I don't fit their idea of strong black masculinity.
EMMANUEL:      What’s your idea of it?
ETHAN:              I don't know.
EMMANUEL:      There's your problem.

Barber Shop Chronicles is set to tour both in the UK and internationally and Ellams is clearly delighted that there is considerable interest from various countries. He also has an ambition to have the play translated into French so that it can go to French-speaking Africa. And although he has commissions from the Tricycle and the RSC, he is very happy to be working at the National.

‘I love the resource of the NT. It is a special place. I have never been in a building where the workers just love coming to work. I have more ideas than I have time to develop, and will keep writing for others, for stage and screen as well, but if I find a good enough reason to step back on stage, I will.’ 

Barber Shop Chronicles returns to the Dorfman Theatre from 29 November.
To hear Inua Ellams discuss barber shops as safe spaces for black men, download Episode Five of the National Theatre Podcast 

Inua Ellams on Barber Shop Chronicles

WhatsOnStage chat to the playwright about his new play, before its opening at the National Theatre.

More info

Barber Shop Chronicles | Audience Reactions

What do audiences think of Barber Shop Chronicles, our new play by Inua Ellams?

More info

Barber Shop Chronicles | In the rehearsal room

See into the rehearsal room and hear from the actors about the music and movement in the production.

More info

Barber Shop Production Gallery

Polly Findlay

Polly Finlay: Beginning at the National
 

Katharine Farmer
Emerging Director

Polly Findlay’s recent work at the National has covered some of the classics – As You Like It, Treasure Island, Antigone – but this autumn she is directing something a little more intimate in the Dorfman. Ahead of starting rehearsals for David Eldridge’s eagerly awaited new play Beginning, she spoke to Katharine Farmer about the production and what her time at the National has meant for her development as a director.


‘It’s a play that came directly from the heart’, explains Polly Findlay when asked to describe Beginning, which opens in the Dorfman Theatre in early October.

Beginning opens at a point of uncertainty – Laura and Danny have just missed that classic romantic opportunity: to have their first kiss. On a couch in Crouch End, they open up to each other to find a point from which they can start over.

‘It’s not a play that has battles in it, or that deals with a huge political landscape or any of the things you might define as high stakes drama, but the actions that these characters take during the course of the narrative are, for them, as high stakes as anything they could possibly do,’ says Findlay. ‘In the index of their lives they are operating at ten-out-of-ten risk and ten-out-of-ten bravery.’

Polly Findlay and Lizzie Clachan. Photographer Johan Persson
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Polly explains, ‘David is a master craftsman in the art of the way that people actually speak but at the same time conveying an iceberg of feeling underneath it’. As Danny says in the play, ‘You frighten me. The way you look at me. You unpeel me’.’ And as the character of Laura says, ‘You don’t meet anyone when you’re our age who hasn’t got a story’.

Beginning is the first collaboration between Polly and David Eldridge, although neither are strangers to the National Theatre. Eldridge and Rufus Norris had their combined debut at the National with Market Boy, a decade before Rufus became Director.  In a happy coincidence, whilst Polly and David have a long-standing friendship, it was Rufus who invited Polly to direct Beginning. ‘David and I had almost worked together a couple of times before, and had always wanted to, but this was the one that felt like it was going to be the best match, and was really suited to the intimate space of the Dorfman.’

Polly has directed three productions in the Olivier, and one in the temporary theatre, since starting her career with the National Theatre Studio. After graduating from LAMDA with a Masters in Directing, she was invited to join the Directors’ Course at the NT Studio. ‘That’s how my relationship with the National began. The learning curve during that time was incredibly steep and I still refer back to the things I learnt during that period.’

‘The NT Studio is the engine room of the National. It houses the New Work Department and functions as a space for ideas to grow without the pressure of immediately heading to a performance. It provides a space where you can have some time to explore an idea, get it up on its feet and test whether or not it is going to fly theatrically.’


‘I nearly always work with an assistant now. I find it an invaluable resource to have a second pair of eyes in the room.’


In 2006 Polly was awarded the prestigious Bulldog Princeps Bursary, enabling her to spend six months working at the NT Studio helping with casting for workshops, directing readings and being a part of the life of the building. From there she received a Staff Directorship under previous Director Nicholas Hytner, which catalysed her involvement with the National.

Polly Findlay in rehearsal for Antigone. Photographer Johan Persson
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‘The Staff Director is what in many other buildings is called the Assistant Director. Your job as a Staff Director is to work with the director of the production; you are responsible for the understudies and you become a conduit for communications with the rest of the building.

‘I nearly always work with an assistant now. I find it an invaluable resource to have a second pair of eyes in the room. I sometimes feel that it’s like having directing police! You can turn to your directing police and ask ‘Was that a bad idea? Would you have done it differently?’ It’s very helpful to have someone who is analysing, assessing and trying to make clear things in the way that you are too.’

‘The thing that characterises the way that I work in the Olivier is trying to make your direction decisions hit the back wall. This means the vocabulary of delivery, movement, design and staging are all about communicating to 1,200 people at the same time; which may sound obvious but it does have a knock-on effect on the architecture of the way that you direct. Whereas, in a smaller space like the Dorfman, you’re under less pressure to focus at such a degree and you're freer in terms of looser domestic detail. It means that you're able to operate with a greater sense of filmic nuance and detail, which I’m really looking forward to.’


‘My job is to create a system in which the actors feel confident, happy and brave enough to really be in the moment.’


Beginning went into rehearsal at the end of August. ‘It’s a two-hander, a duologue, so unlike a huge, technically complicated show with a big cast like As You Like It or Treasure Island, the luxury of doing a play with a much smaller cast is that much of the rehearsal process is determined by them. I haven't worked with either Justine Mitchell or Sam Troughton before so I begin with a period of exploration that is about working out what approaches best unlock those two individuals imaginatively.

‘The drama of this piece lives in the relationship between Danny and Laura, in a moment of realisation, in a moment of change, in a shift in perception, or a step that someone feels bold enough to take in a particular moment. It’s in the authenticity of these moments in which the play will live or die. Therefore, my job is to create a system in which the actors feel confident, happy and brave enough to really be in the moment. It will be about fostering the right spirit of bravery and trust between the two actors so that they are able to honestly play on a nightly basis.’ 

Beginning will play in the Dorfman Theatre from 5 October. 

'Antigone': An Introduction

Polly Findlay speaks about her interpretation of Don Taylor's translation of Antigone for the National Theatre's Olivier theatre in 2012. Includes interviews with Christopher Eccleston, Jodie Whittaker and Michael Grady-Hall.

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National Theatre: Staging Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of murder, money and mutiny is brought to life on the Olivier stage in a thrilling new adaptation by Bryony Lavery.

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Nick Fletcher and Tia Bannon in

Playwrights of the Future: New Views 

Every year New Views, the National Theatre’s pioneering playwriting programme for 14-19-year-olds, gives hundreds of students from across the UK the opportunity to learn about playwriting from some of the UK’s finest writers and to write their own 30-minute plays. A selection of these plays are then presented as rehearsed readings at the NT, with one young playwright being given the chance to see their work brought to life on a National Theatre stage by a professional cast and crew.

 

Patricia Allison, Zack Momoh, Emmauel Kojo, Niamh Graham, Daniel Ezra and Adetomiwa Edun. Photographer: Belinda Lawley
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Open to any school or college, New Views students sharpen their approach to research, as well as their ability to develop and articulate ideas on issues they care deeply about, and they gain real transferable skills. Through New Views, students gain a sense of connection to the arts, an enthusiasm for theatre and an understanding its power to engage audiences in serious debate. Playwright Simon Stephens, a member of the judging panel for the 2017 competition, says ‘Reading these plays charged me with great enthusiasm at a time when our country needs its young voices to sing more clearly than ever before.’ 

This year’s winning play was Dead Don’t Floss by 17-year-old Beattie Green from St Marylebone School in London. It was performed in the Dorfman Theatre on Tuesday 4 July, directed by Roy Alexander Weise.


[New Views] has been one of the best things (if not the best thing) I have ever done and I'm so grateful that I was given the opportunity.
Beattie Green, Winning Writer of New Views 2017


Read on for an extract from her winning script.

To hear Beattie Green talk about her experience of New Views, download Episode Six of the National Theatre Podcast 

If you would like to find out more about New Views, please visit the dedicated microsite: new-views.tv

New Views is supported by Old Possum’s Practical Trust, Chapman Charitable Trust, Golsoncott Foundation, The Steel Charitable Trust, and Unity Theatre Trust.


From 2017 winning play, Dead Don’t Floss Scene 3: Floss

 

Alex goes back to making her bed with a sort of faded energy slowly returning to her.


Alex (to the audience) One thing that I really do find hilarious, and I say this genuinely, is my father. He’s like a caricature of an awkward dad. It’s astounding.


Her dad hovers at the edge of the door.


Alex He never remembers to knock until he has already come into the room and looked around a bit. He’s not being a tactical genius, he’s just really not practiced in the art of excessive politeness.


As she says this he enters the room, looks around a bit, then knocks sloppily on the door frame without looking. 


Alex (to the audience) He always makes a kind of unnecessary comment, like small talk. Really, really small talk. Especially for the man from whom I get half of my genetic material and who has raised me since birth.


Dad I like what you’ve done with it. (He roughly gestures to the entire bedroom).


Alex Thanks Dad, you were here yesterday. (He nods but doesn’t actually react as she turns back to the audience) Nothing has changed since yesterday.


He walks slowly over to down stage left and hesitates looking around the floor.


Alex He will never sit on my bed, there’s no reason why, he just won’t. So instead, he’ll improvise. Inventively. He once decided to do a kind of awkward squat, like PE teachers do to demonstrate their athleticism. He was very committed. Think that’s why he has trouble with his knees now.


He spots a laundry basket piled high with clothes and slowly perches on it, not really letting his full weight rest. He is half facing the audience, somehow not quite able to face his daughter.


Alex Now, he’s going to ask me something wildly out-dated. Not only in terms of my life but also in terms of general society.


Dad How are your O-levels getting along then?


Alex Or, something completely arbitrary.


Dad Are you flossing? Flossing is really important


Alex Or, if he’s feeling confident, he’ll make a clunky attempt at getting in touch with his feminine side.


Dad Do you need any (it’s difficult for him to say) tampons or sanitary towels or…bras or anything? 


Alex Or, he might even ask about one of my friends. He’ll always get their name wrong. Without fail. But never wildly wrong, in fact it almost seems deliberate. 


Dad And how is my buddy Neymar?


Alex It’s Naima, Dad. Neymar’s the weirdly attractive Brazilian football player.


Dad (suddenly turning to face her) You find him attractive? Really?

Alex (to audience) Of course, his protectiveness extends to twenty-something year-old Brazilian football stars that might pick me up in, I don’t know, an Oxfam or a Nando’s on the high street or something. (To dad) Of course not, I’ve just heard some people say that at school (he nods, reassured).


Long pause – the mood shifts, she is no longer delivering her stand up, and is staring straight at him.


Alex Normally, he would make an excuse to leave now, feeling satisfied that I’m coming along nicely. But not today. Today he’s just sitting there. His face looks weird.


He is staring at his hands and she is staring at him, standing centre stage, facing him directly.


Dad Alex, I really need you to come today. I’m not going to ask you again, or force you, but just please know, that I really bloody need you today.


Alex I usually hate it when adults use swearwords to try and connect with you because they think that if you’re under 18 you speak exclusively in the language of angst. But the thing is he’s crying. My dad is crying, he’s sitting on a pile of my clothes and crying, and it’s all I can do not to scream at him and ask him to pull himself together because he’s my dad, he’s supposed to be strong and big and there but he really isn’t. And neither am I. And I think he swore because he really needed to, and I think he wanted to say more than bloody but even now he’s trying to protect me from the f-word, because he’s realised he can’t protect me from the rest of it.


Dad (his body is convulsing and he turns to face her, shrunk by her uncomfortably rigid figure) Alex, please, I had three children a week ago, now I’ve lost one forever, I can’t lose you as well.


Alex (She looks at him for a very long time and then slowly walks over to him and sits on the floor with her back leaning against him and the laundry basket)


I’m doing A-levels now and O-levels haven’t existed for ages.


Beat


I don’t floss. To be honest I don’t know anyone who does apart from you (they both laugh, despite both of their tears).


Beat


I have plenty of feminine hygiene products and bras, and Naima is doing okay except she worries about me and she misses Ab.


Beat


Thank you for asking.


Beat


And thank you for not asking how I am.


He looks down at her and a hint of a smile traces his lips, they make eye contact for a second and then both look away. He puts his hand on her head.


They remain like this for a few seconds and then he leaves and she moves to sit with her back against the cupboard.

 

Taking America with Tim Levy

Jenny Morris
Development Coordinator, American Associates of the National Theatre

Tim Levy first began his relationship with the National Theatre during the tenure of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, serving as the National’s liaison to American producers who were transferring NT shows to Broadway. He remembers it being an amazing experience, but also wanting more. After five years at the NT, Levy made the move to New York to begin working for an American producer. Years later, the idea of NT America was formed and took root.


‘The truth is, you never really know if a hit in London will translate to a hit in New York. The National has been extraordinarily lucky with America’s response to our work here. In the end, you have to follow your instincts.’


‘In the last ten years, the National Theatre has won the Tony Award for Best New Play a record-breaking three times.’


For Levy, now Director of NT America, those instincts more often than not turn out to be spot on. In the last ten years, the National Theatre has won the Tony Award for Best New Play a record-breaking three times. Most recently, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won a total of five Tony Awards, including Best Actor for newcomer Alex Sharp, and the production is currently in the midst of a successful US tour, spanning more than 30 cities over the course of a year.

People, Places and Things. Photographer: Johan Persson
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In its mission to be a truly international theatre, the National Theatre established NT America, with a full-time New York office, in 2012. This move allowed the NT to build on relationships with American theatres and to advance a theatrical discourse with artists from both sides of the Atlantic. While such a development may seem natural for an organisation like the NT, the creation of NT America was the result of many years of careful preparation.

With NT America, the National Theatre serves as the lead producer for all transfers to America. This includes the upcoming transfer of recent success People, Places and Things. The play earned high praise from critics and audiences alike, so much that it transferred from the Dorfman Theatre to a sold-out run in the West End and was nominated for four Olivier Awards, winning for Best Actress and Best Sound Design. With this much acclaim, the decision to try and bring the production to the US seems obvious, but the process of determining what productions transfer, however, is ultimately quite complex. ‘The decision is an active discussion between the London team and myself,’ Levy explains. ‘Sometimes, there are shows that have such an extraordinary momentum – such as War Horse and Curious Incident – that it feels almost inevitable that they will find life in America. There’s no exact science to it and, of course, there’s a very large number of NT shows that are utterly brilliant that don’t make it over, but in no way does that make them less worthy or less extraordinary.’

The choice to transfer People, Places and Things was influenced by a number of factors. ‘It’s thrilling to bring this cast, led by Denise Gough’s tour-de-force performance, to New York. Everyone who saw her performance was blown away. And of course, the subject matter of Duncan Macmillan’s brilliant play is just as relevant in the US as in the UK. The ratio of drug and alcohol clinics in the US is staggeringly higher than it is the UK. And the idea of therapy itself is currently much more widely accepted here in the States.’ This transfer is also the first time the National Theatre has partnered with non-profit theatre St Ann’s Warehouse. Bunny Christie, the set designer for People, Places and Things, had worked with St Ann’s many times on other productions. She suggested the space would be extraordinary for the play, and the NT America team agreed. ‘We’ve long admired the team at St Ann’s and their artistic taste. This felt like the perfect production to take there.’

James Corden (Francis) Suzie Toase (Dolly) in One Man, Two Guvnors. Photographer: Johan Persson
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Of course, there are always challenges in bringing productions over. Some of these challenges run on a larger scale, such as the usual logistical issues of moving to a different space and the adjusting of design elements to accommodate the move. Other challenges tend to be smaller and more nuanced, such as the language of the piece. ‘There are occasionally dialect issues, particularly when a play is set somewhere in the UK with an accent that is less known to American audiences. For Curious, we adjusted certain words in the script – ‘biscuits’ to ‘cookies’ and ‘adjudicator’ to ‘supervisor’ – so the audience wouldn’t be taken out of the story, but stay with Christopher on his journey.’ With challenges also come fantastic opportunities, by way of meeting new talent and new supporters. ‘We have produced several plays where we’ve cast American actors, and one of the thrilling things about that is the quality of the acting pool here, and the ability for these actors to do absolutely fantastic British accents.’ Audience response is also considered when making the move to America. ‘It’s extremely helpful that we have so many fantastic American supporters who see our work over here. They give us real insight to the American response to the plays.’


 ‘Curious Incident put on a very special relaxed performance, the first time for a Broadway play to do so.’


While accents and redesigns are vital considerations, there is also another fundamental question the team asks when transferring a production to the States: what does it mean to bring a National Theatre production to somewhere like New York? For example, it is seen as essential to integrate accessible pricing. Curious Incident set aside a significant number of $25 seats for each performance, and tickets for People, Places and Things begin at $35. Another crucial component: community involvement. With the help of the American Associates of the National Theatre (a non-profit 501(c)(3) whose mission is to raise funds for the NT through American supporters), funds were raised for Curious Incident to put on a very special relaxed performance, the first time ever for a Broadway play to do so. The performance presented a modified version of the show, including reducing jarring sounds and strobe lights, so that families with children diagnosed with autism, learning disabilities and sensory or communication needs could freely enjoy the production. ‘It’s always essential for us to look at ways to explore the material with audiences and communities here.’ People, Places and Things will continue in the same spirit of community involvement, as director Jeremy Herrin and NT America have planned several events with sober communities in New York.

Part of the mission of NT America is getting to know American artists and their work. NT America works closely with the New Work department in London on a shared exploration of American theatre-makers. The goal is to collaborate with American theatre companies and discover American artists, as well as continuing the great tradition of bringing American work to the NT’s stages on the South Bank. ‘For some British theatre companies, they will open a play in New York and then leave until the next opportunity for a transfer comes along, sometimes years later. NT America has a home base here. We are able to really be part of the New York theatrical ecosystem, something that is extremely important to us. It’s about building those relationships within the community.’ And for Levy, who has been in New York ten years and now has dual citizenship, his favourite part of working in American theatre: ‘I am constantly and consistently inspired by the community’s unashamedly positive and optimistic outlook.’ 

People, Places and Things runs at the St Ann’s Warehouse, New York from 19 October.

Following a sold-out run at the National Theatre, Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s masterpiece Angels in America will transfer to The Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway in 2018.

For more information about supporting the National Theatre in dollars through the American Associates of the National Theatre, please contact the AANT team by phone on (212) 489-4783 or email at  nyoffice@aarnt.org 

Highlights From "One Man, Two Guvnors" on Broadway

Inspired by Carlo Goldoni's 18th-century "commedia"-style classic "The Servant of Two Masters," Richard Bean's London hit "One Man, Two Guvnors" makes its American premiere on Broadway with most of its original National Theatre troupe intact.

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Acceptance Speech: James Corden (2012)

James Corden of One Man, Two Guvnors accepting a Tony Award during the 2012 Tony ceremony.

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Tony Awards 2011 Acceptance Speech - War Horse - Best Play

The producers of War Horse accepting a Tony Award for Best Play during the 2011 Tony ceremony.

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National Conversations: The National Theatre Podcast

Caroline Crampton
Assistant Editor and Head of Podcasts at the New Statesman

Listening to a podcast is an intimate, solitary experience. No two commuters, sitting side by side on the train, are listening to the same thing at the same time. Yet perhaps theatre and podcasts have more in common than we realise. Whilst the podcast host can do their work alone in a studio, the response can be just as collective as a first night standing ovation. Podcasts big and small have built networks of fans that stretch around the world.

 

It is this effect that Emma Reidy and Sam Sedgman, the producers of the National Theatre Podcast, hope to tap into. ‘We want to make sure that the National Theatre isn’t just for people who can come to the South Bank and see the shows. This is another way for us to try to share the NT’s work with as many people as possible – in the same way we do with the tours and NT Live screenings,’ Sedgman explains. ‘I think it’s really important not only to be trying to reach audiences that live outside of London but also to document the work that’s going on outside of the capital,’ Reidy adds. ‘That’s what we are, after all – a national theatre.’

Sam Sedgman and Emma Reidy, Producers of the National Theatre Podcast
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The idea of a podcast was something that had been in the works for a while, but the project really came into focus once Rufus Norris became the National Theatre’s Director in March 2015. ‘With Rufus bringing a renewed focus on the theatre as a place for national debate, it seemed a really good idea to have a format where we could explore social and cultural issues and how theatre connects to them,’ Sedgman says. The purpose of the podcast is to share the resources and expertise of the National Theatre with the widest possible network. The tagline? ‘If all the world’s the stage, we’re the programme notes.’ It seems unlikely we will run out of material any time soon…

Caroline Crampton is an Assistant Editor and Head of Podcasts at the New Statesman.
Emma Reidy is Digital Content Producer at the National Theatre and producer of the National Theatre Podcast.
Sam Sedgman is Digital Project Manager at the National Theatre and host of the National Theatre Podcast.

 

1. Brexit

Ed Miliband talks politics and performance, as he gives his reaction to My Country; a work in progress. Director Rufus Norris discusses making plays in response to current events, and theatre-makers from across the UK chart attitudes to Brexit – and to theatre – where they work.

2. Prisons

How does Hamlet go down in a prison? Chukwudi Iwuji talks about playing the Danish prince for inmates in New York. The Synergy Theatre Project describe using theatre to rehabilitate prisoners and ex-offenders, and people with experience of the criminal justice system explain the role theatre has played in their lives.

3. Performing Gender

Harriet Walter considers what playing some of Shakespeare’s most iconic male roles has taught her about gender and power. Body language expert India Ford analyses how female politicians represent themselves as powerful women, and drag queen John Sizzle talks about breaking down gender barriers.

4. Old Lear

Simon Russell Beale and Don Warrington discuss playing one of the greatest stage roles and unpick the complex relationship between acting and ageing. Plus, theatre company Improbable describe teaching octogenarian actors about improvisation.

5. Masculinity

Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney talks about how growing up in Liberty City, Florida, shaped his understanding of what it means to be a man. Poet and playwright Inua Ellams discusses why the barber shop is a safe place for black men to be themselves, and a dressing room of male actors share stories of the many kinds of men they’ve been asked to play.

6. New Work

Cush Jumbo explains how writing a play changed the fortunes of her acting career, and dramaturgs, directors and 17-year-old playwright Beattie Green reveal how plays really come to life (see the extract from her play, Dead Don’t Floss, above).

7. The Majority

Does our vote matter? Follow the development of new interactive show The Majority, which lets the audience cast votes to change the outcome of the performance. Experts in polling and audience behaviour debate how large groups make decisions and moral choices with real-life consequences.

8. In Public

How does culture shape the character of a neighbourhood, city, or country? In a world of private ownership and competing interests, what does ‘public space’ really mean? To coincide with the NT’s River Stage festival, this discussion includes a look at art in public spaces, and the impact it’s had on the people who pass through them.

9. Edinburgh

Marking the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the National Theatre Podcast goes on the road to Scotland to ask people from all over the country if it’s still the beating heart of new theatre-making. How has the Fringe shaped the last seven decades of UK culture – and has it become a victim of its own success? 

10. Disaster

Everyone has failed at something, but rarely on stage in front of hundreds of people. Our favourite guests share their stories of on-stage mishaps and malfunctions, and professional embarrassment in its most public form. The question is how do we deal with failure, and our obsession with it? 

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/podcast 

Network On Stage Seating

See Network from a completely unique perspective – on-stage – with this immersive dining experience.

You will be welcomed to Foodwork, the show's very own fine dining restaurant, where you will enjoy a three course meal in the heart of the action on the stage of the Lyttelton Theatre. You will arrive through a secret entrance, be welcomed by our Maître D', and be guided to your seats on stage where the production will take place all around you.

Menu

You will be served a three coursed meal with wine (vegetarian option available).
View the menu here

Tickets

Onstage seats are only available to purchase immediately through us. Our public ballot closed on 26 September. 

Single ticket £245 
Group of Four £780
This includes a personal donation of £150  (single) or £100 (table) per person to support creative projects with schools and young people across the country.

To book Foodwork please call the Development Department on: 020 7452 3218
Email: kmarks@nationaltheatre.org.uk

Standard Club Night Tickets

Alternatively, use your Club Night membership allocation and enjoy a complimentary pre-show drink and programme when you book. Please note that due to capacity, tickets are currently limited to 2 per person. 

Stalls £62

Circle £54

Click the button below and log in to book tickets.

Book Here

On-stage seating information

  • A limited number of tickets will be available for this unique immersive experience
  • You will be visible to the audience in the auditorium. You may also be in shot during live filming shown on screens as part of the play
  • There will be a simple dress code
  • You will be served a set menu (vegetarian options available) accompanied by an aperitif and a glass of wine
  • Regrettably we will not be able to admit under 18s to the stage 
  • There is wheelchair access available for each performance

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