The National Theatre is touring its shows around the regions and showcasing the very best of British Theatre. Nick Ahad reports.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about what being British means of late.
Once we were exporters.
Time was when our manufacturing industry was the envy of the world. From right here in Bradford we exported wool around the world. Sheffield steel was the envy of the globe. We were the world leaders in producing much of what the rest of the world wanted.
That export trade has taken a battering over the last century as the rest of the world has caught up and overtaken us and no longer needs to rely on a ‘Made in Britain’ stamp as a mark of quality.
Except for one industry.
We remain the very best in the world when it comes to producing theatre. From Shakespeare to the present day, Britain rules the theatre world. Nowhere is this more evidenced than by the success of the National Theatre over the past ten years. Shows that originated in London have gone literally all over the world and taken the brand of British Theatre with them.
It’s a period of success that was kicked off, arguably, by the unparalleled Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, which conquered London, then New York, Australia and the rest of the world. The past decade has seen the now outgoing artistic director of the National Theatre Nicholas Hytner oversee a period of extraordinary brilliance.
Among theatre artists in the regions there is a sense of resentment, at times, at the fact that the National Theatre draws so much money from the arts coffers.
The truth is, it does get disproportionately more than any theatre around Britain. It is our National Theatre, so the argument is made that it deserves more funding than the rest. The arguments about the justice of that are for another time.
With those arguments in mind, however, it seems the National has made a concerted effort in recent years to make sure that we all do feel a sense of ownership of the theatre for which we all pay.
To get to our National Theatre, particularly for us in Yorkshire, is an expensive business. The tickets aren’t cheap, but before we even get there, we have to factor in train travel, possibly a stay in a hotel if we can’t get back in time to get home – getting to the National is prohibitively expensive for most of us.
The National has recognised this and has committed to bringing the best of its work to us in the regions.
It does this in two ways. First, with NT Live, it broadcasts live shows to cinemas around the UK and the world. It’s not really the same as being in the room, but it is, in all fairness, as near as dammit. The other, more laudable way it fulfils its commitment, is by bringing its work to us.
One Man, Two Guvnors, written by Hull’s Richard Bean, was an enormous success when it opened in London in 2011. It went to Broadway and this summer audiences across Yorkshire are getting the chance to see why it has been such a success.
A sell-out run in at the Sheffield Lyceum, where the play kicked off, has just come to an end and over the next few months the production will visit Bradford, Hull and next spring, York.
Bringing the work created in London, to Yorkshire, is important and necessary and it is heartening to see the National taking this responsibility seriously.
Another National production we can see on our doorstep is the phenomenon that is War Horse.
Adapted from the Michael Morpugo book, few would have predicted that this show would be a success at all, let alone a success that would inspire Steven Spielberg to make a movie based on the stage show.
The secret actually lies beneath the National Theatre, in an experimental studio space where the people behind War Horse spent literally years bringing the show to life. That sort of research and development is expensive and is paid for via funding from our pockets. Which is why it is right and fair that we get to see the show in the region.
The touring production arrived at the Bradford Alhambra this week, opening the UK tour in Yorkshire – as One Man Two Guvnors did in Sheffield – and will be at the theatre until June 14.
Adam Renton, the manager of the Alhambra who was instrumental in bringing the production to Bradford, says: “Hosting the exclusive Yorkshire premiere of the National Theatre’s production of War Horse is wonderful news for our award-winning venue and for the district.
“The fact that the Alhambra Theatre celebrates 100 years in 2014, while the show is in residence, makes it even more special.”