Royal title was a mistake, say National Theatre chiefs

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The Independent Online

The three men who have run the Royal National Theatre since 1976 marked its silver jubilee by saying that the venue on the South Bank of the Thames should never have been called Royal at all.

Sir Richard Eyre, who was the theatre's director from 1988 to 1997, was greeted with nods of agreement from his predecessor, Sir Peter Hall, and his successor, Trevor Nunn, when he said: "I find Royal National Theatre an oxymoron and I regret it."

"It's all coming out tonight isn't it?" exclaimed Mr Nunn, the current director.

During an interview on the stage of the Olivier Theatre by Sue MacGregor, of Radio 4's Today programme, who is also a member of the National's board, Sir Richard recalled how two Labour peers had insisted on the inclusion of the word "Royal" after the staging of Alan Bennett's play A Question of Attribution in 1988.

Although "Prunella Scales played the Queen very flatteringly" in the play, it was the first time the monarch had been portrayed on stage, and Sir Richard said that the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, "profoundly objected''. Lord Rayne, then a board member, and Lord Mishcon, a former board member, were also "deeply, deeply disturbed''.

Although Sir Richard said he refused to concede or offer his resignation, Lord Rayne insisted on the word "Royal" entering the title of the theatre because "he found the vilification of the National Theatre in its first years on the South Bank immensely wounding''.

Significantly, the theatre's logo remains NT and it is almost never referred to as the Royal National Theatre.

In another populist outburst, Sir Richard added that he thought all seats should be priced at £10.

When asked by the audience about the age of the National's theatregoers, Sir Richard said it was a much repeated "calumny'' to suggest that all the audiences were elderly, but he said his own plan to increase diversity would be for every seat to be £10 (at present the top price is £32).

Sir Peter Hall said that because of insufficient subsidy, the only way to make the finances work was to put on regular commercial musicals. He added that Mr Nunn was "the best director of these in the world'' yet the press condemned him for staging them.

Sir Peter also paid tribute to Laurence Olivier who founded the National and ran it at the Old Vic Theatre in the early 60s and 70s before the South Bank building opened.

Sir Peter said: "The English never wanted a national theatre. Only Laurence Olivier bullied and connived till it was done. Without him we wouldn't be sitting here.''