Rufus Norris: "The River Stage is political, it's owned by the nation and it's for everyone"

We chat to the NT’s artistic director about the free outdoor festival, which runs every weekend from 28 July to 28 August

River Stage Festival
River Stage Festival
What is the aim of the River Stage?

It is a partnership where we showcase new and diverse artists and acts and it’s for everyone to participate in. It’s great we have the ability to make work available for free to anyone who comes along and that is part of our aim of cultivating a new generation of art lovers.

Fran Miller, who has been programming it, has become the expert on the River Stage and that has been a glorious example of delegation on my part, she has all the ideas.

The stage will have a series of weekend takeovers from LGBT performance art venue The Glory, HOME Manchester, WOMAD and Rambert. Is there one that you personally are particularly excited about?

The Glory were wonderful last year so we invited them back this year. They are a high point; it’s a great weekend of drag magic and it’s incredibly infectious what they do. People walk past and end up stopping for two hours.

The launch event for the River Stage was held back after the London terror attack. How was this decision reached?

With a tragedy like that there are several considerations, firstly to the victims, so it felt wrong to mark anything in a celebratory way… It was a complicated time for any organisation in London but part of the brilliance of our culture is that it’s open; we stand for freedom of speech and movement and all those things. It felt appropriate to wait for a time and our first duty is always to our audience.

You’ve taken a serious political stance with much of the NT's programme, commissioning My Country: A Work in Progress, for example. How does the River Stage fit into your overall aims for the NT?

For me [the River Stage] is political. When you talk about political work it can sound table thumpy but it’s absolutely not that – and I’d like to think this theatre really is for everyone. Some of that remit will be commissioning new plays, some of which will hopefully be prescient. It’s a political time, our society is shifting every month, so it’s important we are a place for provocation and challenge and hilarity.

Our theatre is owned by the nation and some people don’t choose theatre as a way to amuse themselves or don’t think theatre is for them, or they haven’t grown up with theatre. So to have the opportunity to say this is a publicly funded building and it’s for everyone, the River Stage is very much a part of that. It’s for anyone that’s walking past whether they are Londoners or people who’ve come for the day to visit.

What are your hopes for this year's festival?

I hope thousands come along as they did last year, I hope the weather’s good and I hope we make everyone feel welcome.

The National Theatre's River Stage runs every weekend from 28 July to 28 August.