The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, yesterday made her first official visit to the National Theatre after being announced as Patron. The post was previously held by the Queen, a role held by her for nearly 50 years. The Duchess has often stated that she is a strong believer in using the arts to bring people from different backgrounds and communities together and her first visit to the National involved meeting with not just Rufus Norris, the theatre’s director, Executive Director Lisa Burger and Chair Sir Damon Buffini but also members of the Public Acts company, which makes large-scale community theatre productions, along with backstage technicians and NT apprentices.
I spoke with Rufus Norris two years ago for WhatsonStage, regarding his commitment to the ‘national’ part of the theatre’s work last year.
“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,” he told me. “I’d like to think this theatre really is for everyone.”
Even though there’s a clue in its name, The National is too often seen as a London theatre, and many people don’t realise it is meant to be for everyone in the country, but with Meghan Markle taking an active stance in her patronage, will it continue and expand its commitment to being both national and inclusive?
The Duchess was reportedly interested in hearing from Norris about the National Theatre’s work outside of London. “Across the country, as we continue to build on our national work through our tours and learning programmes.,” said Norris yesterday. “The Duchess shares our belief that theatre has the power to bring together people from all communities and walks of life”.
Public Acts is one example of the National Theatre’s dedication to community involvement. The company’s musical production of Pericles last year, adapted by playwright Chris Bush, brought over 200 people of all ages from community theatres across London together with six professional actors.
Another strand of the National’s outreach programme is NT Live, which broadcasts star-studded theatre to over 2,500 venues in 65 countries.
Wearing an outfit worth about £5,000, Meghan Markle might not exactly be a woman of the people, but her instincts and intentions to engage with the public, and take an interest in the National’s community engagement, are a positive sign for the future.