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Jo Caird: Three cheers for the NT & subsidised theatre

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At the Whatsonstage.com Awards on Sunday night I found myself in a huddle of people praising the National Theatre to the skies. The huddle mainly consisted of members of the ensemble of London Road, which opened at the Cottesloe in April 2011, so they may have been a touch biased, but the point made in that conversation stands: the NT is on extraordinary form at the moment.

Scan through the list of Sunday night's winners and the NT comes up again and again. The organisation collected seven gongs in total for Frankenstein, One Man, Two Guvnors, Season's Greetings and War Horse in the West End, along with Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork's London Road, which I've already mentioned.

Having already cleaned up at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards 2011 (winning in six of the eight award categories) and the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2011 (taking home the awards for Best Actor, Best Play and Best Director for Frankenstein, One Man, Two Guvnors and Mike Leigh's Grief respectively), the NT is having a pretty successful time of it right now. The nominees of the 2012 Olivier Awards won't be announced until 15 March (with the awards ceremony taking place on 15 April), but it's fairly likely that the NT will be well represented there too.

For the individual winners of all these awards, it's a lovely thing to have one's work lauded, but what's more important is that subsidised theatre is getting the recognition it deserves. The NT is far more than just the productions that play on its stages. From developing new work and supporting theatre-makers from all the creative disciplines at the National Theatre Studio, to audience development schemes such as NT Live and the Travelex £12 seasons, the NT is an integral part of the UK theatre landscape.

I'd wager that the vast majority of people working in or writing about theatre in this country would acknowledge that without the subsidised sector, the commercial sector would be a far poorer place. This isn't always so obvious to the public however. A streak of award wins like the one the NT is enjoying at the moment puts the subsidised sector in the spotlight. It's not that buildings like the NT need to win awards to prove their value – the value is there all the same, gongs or not – but it terms of raising awareness of the importance of public subsidy and thereby (hopefully) safeguarding it for the future, every little helps.

The National opened in 1976 with the slogan “The New National Theatre is Yours” and that's exactly the sentiment behind NT Future, the £70 million scheme launched in 2010 to ensure that the organisation continues to meet the needs of audiences and artists going forwards. Exciting changes are afoot, from the refurbishment of the Cottesloe (which will reopen as the Dorfman Theatre in early 2014); to the creation of the Clore Learning Centre, a new education space alongside the Dorfman; to making the NT more welcoming to first-time visitors through the opening up of the building's public spaces and entrances. As the recession continues to bite, the NT is more committed than ever to the notion that theatre is for the many, not for the few.

Times are tough and it feels like every day there's more bad news – about the state of the economy, the health service, the education system – so let's allow ourselves just a moment of pride: the NT is our theatre and it's excelling itself. Three cheers for the National Theatre.


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