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NT Launches Sunday Opening, War Horse Returns

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The National Theatre will open for the first time on Sundays from this September, as part of a three- to four-month trial that could lead to seven-day-a-week programming year-round at the UK’s flagship subsidised theatre from 2009 (See News, 2 Oct 2007).

The stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s book War Horse, which will return for an autumn/winter run in the NT Olivier, will be the first production available for Sunday booking. Its first Sunday performance, a 3.00pm matinee on 21 September 2008, goes on sale to the public on 6 June.

Other productions – in the Olivier and the Lyttelton, but not in the Cottesloe, the South Bank’s smallest auditorium – will also be staged on Sundays. The schedules for those will be announced at the end of July. If all goes well with the autumn/winter experiment, Sunday programming will become a fixture on the South Bank, though an NT spokesperson could not confirm from when. “I wouldn’t want to put an exact date on it,” she said. “It’s sensible to test it first and see how it goes.”

NT executive director Nick Starr has previously told Whatsonstage.com that an additional £300,000 per annum would be required to sustain Sunday openings, which, though “not a huge earner”, are considered a necessary risk to meet the entertainment expectations of modern audiences. NT bars and restaurants will also open from mid-day so that theatregoers can dine before and after their performances.

On the agenda for many years, the trial has been held up by protracted negotiations with workers’ unions, but according to the spokesperson, the major points with actors and stage technicians - who will work voluntarily on Sundays and have the rest of their working weeks adjusted accordingly – have now been agreed.

Nick Stafford’s multi award-winning stage version of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s book War Horse received its world premiere in the NT Olivier on 17 October 2007 (previews from 9 October). In it, young Albert's beloved horse Joey is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France during the First World War. Unable to forget Joey and still too young to enlist, the boy embarks on a treacherous mission to find the horse and bring him home.

On stage, horses, children and other selected characters are brought to life by life-sized puppets created by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for South African puppet company Handspring. The puppets, and set designs by Rae Smith, earned War Horse Best Design prizes at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier awards.

The production is co-directed by NT associates Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and designed by Rae Smith, with lighting by Paule Constable, movement by Toby Sedgwick and music by Adrian Sutton. Many of the 26-strong, multi-tasking company – including Alan Williams, Tim van Eyken, James Barriscale, Paul Chequer and Finn Caldwell – will return for the new dates.

War Horse will reopen on 17 September 2008 (previews from 10 September) in the NT Olivier, where it will initially be booking until 12 November. The spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com that this production is being put on sale early because the National recognises that “it is going to be one of highlights of autumn/winter, and that schools want to book early before the end of the summer term”.

- by Terri Paddock


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