National director Rufus Norris defends Britain's subsidised theatre as he announces plans for his first year in charge

The schedule includes new work from Caryl Churchill and Patrick Marber as well as an adaptation by Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy and a debut for Blur's Damon Albarn

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The Independent Culture

The new head of the National Theatre has made a passionate defence of Britain’s subsidised theatre calling it the “fertiliser of world culture”.

Rufus Norris, who takes over as director from Sir Nicholas Hytner in April, hailed the sector at an event to announce plans for his debut year, including a programme designed to keep the National “at the cultural heart of the country”.

The line-up includes new work from Caryl Churchill and Patrick Marber as well as an adaptation by Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy and a debut at the theatre for Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

Among the first plays of the Mr Norris’ reign is 15th century morality play Everyman in a new version by Dame Carol Ann. It will see Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor return to the stage in London’s South Bank for the first time since playing Romeo in 2000.

Mr Norris said: “In another year where the Oscar nominations are stuffed with actors who honed or learned their craft on our subsidised stages, I’m thrilled to announce the welcome return of Chiwetel.”

He added: “One of the many arguments for public and private support of this organisation, and organisations like this one, is we are the compost, the manure, the fertiliser that feeds culture worldwide.”

Despite pledging to bring in “artists from all forms” to create new work, the incoming director said during his reign the National would not be ditching audience favourites such as Alan Bennett, Sir David Hare and Sir Tom Stoppard.

“We do not intend to lose one single audience member that has been so loyally committed to this theatre over the last decade. It’s just about expanding it where we can,” Mr Norris said, before joking: “There’s no question of kicking Alan Bennett out of the door.”

New work this year will include wonder.land, “a modern and very free take” on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which will start at the Manchester International Festival before arriving at the National.

Written by Moira Buffini, author of Handbagged, the music was composed by Albarn. “It is stuffed full of infectious songs,” Mr Norris said. “It is Damon at his absolute best.”

Mr Norris announced his first season at the theatre alongside incoming chief executive Tessa Ross, who replaces executive director Nick Starr. The pair said the first season was “just a beginning but it contains the seeds of what is to come”.

“We are inheriting and building on a great legacy here at the National Theatre,” Mr Norris said, “and we hope this programme reflects our aim to keep this crucible of talent very much at the cultural heart of this country.”

The year will include what he dubbed “modern masterpieces” and new work by established playwrights as well as traditional work including Shakespeare’s As You Like It and restoration comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem by George Farquhar.

Caryl Churchill’s English Civil War play Light Shining in Buckinghamshire will be the first of the new regime, opening on St George’s day, while there will also be a new work by the playwright called Here We Go.

Patrick Marber is to premiere his fifth play at the National, football drama The Red Lion and is to adapt Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country.

Today, the National announced it was to launch National Theatre: On Demand in Schools which will make productions of Hamlet, Othello and Frankenstein available to schools around the country.

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