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National Theatre boss hits back at Julian Fellowes claim

Fellowes said the Theatre was part of a ‘left-of-centre metropolitan elite’.

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Julian Fellowes and Rufus Norris (Ian West/PA)

Julian Fellowes and Rufus Norris (Ian West/PA)

Julian Fellowes and Rufus Norris (Ian West/PA)

The National Theatre’s boss has hit back at claims by Julian Fellowes that it only sanctions “left-of-centre” voices.

Downton Abbey’s creator claimed that the National Theatre, along with other arts institutions, is part of a “left-of-centre metropolitan elite”.

The BBC, the National Theatre, the National Gallery and the National Trust only spoke with a “kind of Hampstead voice”, he said.

Rufus Norris
Rufus Norris (Ian West/PA)

“They have dealt with their opinions as if they were facts, and everyone else’s opinions as if they were nonsense,” the scriptwriter complained to The Sunday Times.

But the National Theatre’s director Rufus Norris dismissed the claims at a press conference announcing a new programme of work.

“I don’t know Julian and I haven’t seen him here recently,” he said, suggesting that Fellowes had not seen the National Theatre’s recent work.

“I totally dispute the idea that we’re speaking in any particular bubble,” he added, citing “the whole way we’re broadening our repertoire, the artists that we’re working with and where we’re working”.

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas will appear at the National Theatre
Dame Kristin Scott Thomas will appear at the National Theatre (Ian West/PA)

Norris said: “We are increasingly working nationwide, more than theatre has ever done…. I suspect that fact probably was not known to him because he hasn’t looked.”

And he said of the National Theatre’s diversity targets:  “Half of the country are women, it’s a fact.

“If he’d like to argue about that then he’s welcome to come along.

“Our diversity targets are based on the population of this country, that’s a fact. It’s not in dispute.”

Norris said he wants the National Theatre, which tours productions around the UK,  to become “even more national”.

Downton Abbey World Premiere – London
Julian Fellowes (Ian West/PA)

It is creating new works with theatres and broadcasting productions around the country, as well as working with schools.

At the South Bank, in London, it will offer 250,000 tickets through the year at £20 or less, to increase the quantity of low-price tickets available by 25% and bring a “bigger and wider audience to the South Bank”, it said.

Programme highlights include the return of the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island following a sell-out run last year, at the Olivier Theatre.

It will also be home to a “soaring musical”,  Standing At The Sky’s Edge,  featuring songs by Richard Hawley.

Kristin Scott Thomas will play a British politician in Phaedra, while Nicola Walker stars in a new production of Welsh classic The Corn Is Green.

Gosford Park writer Fellowes has been a Conservative peer since 2011.

The Downton Abbey creator is famous for writing about the upper classes.

Netflix drama The English Game is about the early years of football.

“In a sense it’s rather my territory, because it’s about the way the British public schools refined football,” he told The Sunday Times.

PA