“In Paris, New York and Berlin, everyone does it on a Sunday. Shoppers and sport-lovers the world over commonly do it on the Sabbath. Only in London is one sector of society prevented from indulging its private passion on its day off: people who go to the theatre.” So says Michael Billington in a feature in today’s Guardian, in which he interviews National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner who speaks of his determination to open the doors of his theatre on a Sunday at last: “At the moment, you walk along the South Bank on a Sunday and we’re the only dark building. It’s ridiculous and it’s got to change.”
Of course, just down the river at Shakespeare’s Globe, the place is open for business on Sundays, but that’s only in their summer season. The big stumbling block, as reported by Alistair Smith in The Stage, is Bectu. Though agreement has been reached with the Actors’ Equity and the Musicians Union, Bectu is holding out. The National propose to allow existing staff to work Sundays on a voluntary basis, but want compulsory Sunday work to be introduced into contracts for new staff taken on. According to union official Willy Donaghy, “We don’t want a two-tier workforce”. Also, their workers are in a different position to those from other unions, because Sunday opening will affect their membership on a full-time basis, whereas for performers or musicians it would only change working practices for the length of their contract with the NT.
As we move into increasingly into a 24-hour, 7 days a week culture, however, the reality is that people want their entertainment at times that suit them. And the theatre industry has to adapt or die. The National has already led the way in so many things — like the fact that its doors are open and welcoming throughout the day, not just at performance times — and it’s great to see it taking the lead on this, too.
Meanwhile, on Broadway — where Sunday performances are, of course, long embedded into the routine — Hytner’s National Theatre production of The History Boys has recouped its transfer costs quicker than any in memory: the $1,850,000 capitalization has been earned back in just six and a half weeks and 51 performances. That’s in addition, of course, to the weekly running cost: Since the weekly gross it is achieving is currently over $650,000, I’m guessing that the weekly costs are around $350,000 to produce the reserve of $300,000 that has led to this fast return.