The National Theatre is to transform its largest stage for a season of performances in-the-round, including a new play and a pantomime of Dick Whittington.
The Olivier, the largest of the three permanent theatres at the National, usually accommodates 1,150 people in its fan-shaped auditorium, but will now seat almost 500 with social distancing.
Death Of England: Delroy, a one-person play about a black working-class man searching for truth and confronting his relationship with Great Britain, will open the season on October 21.
Writers Clint Dyer and Roy Williams wrote the play, directed by Dyer and performed by Giles Terera, over five months.
It follows Death Of England, their previous production, which starred Rafe Spall and closed at the National weeks before lockdown.
The new story focuses on the character of Delroy, the best friend of the protagonist in the first play.
After many theatres across the UK cancelled or postponed their pantomimes, a Christmas production of Dick Whittington will play at the Olivier.
Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd’s version of the story, directed by Ned Bennett, was first staged at Lyric Hammersmith in 2018 and has been updated for 2020.
It will open in December.
The National will follow Government guidelines and implement staggered arrival times, paperless tickets, pre-ordered drinks, enhanced cleaning, mandatory face coverings and sanitisation stations.
Rufus Norris, director of the National, said: “We’re both delighted and relieved to be reopening the National Theatre with the Olivier in-the-round season, which will allow us to present live work to as many people as possible while social distancing remains in place.
“It is dynamically appropriate to begin the season with Death Of England: Delroy, an extraordinarily important and timely piece of work by the hugely talented Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, and we are also proud and privileged to be presenting Dick Whittington this Christmas, helmed by the inspirational Jude Christian, Cariad Lloyd and Ned Bennett.
“Pantomime is an essential part of the living fabric of our nation, and it is devastating that so many theatres across the country have had no choice but to postpone their pantos this year because of the unprecedented financial impact of coronavirus.
“We’ll do all we can to keep the flame alive: brilliant theatre artists will serve up a slice of joy to families on the South Bank, and we’ll be asking everyone to support their local theatres by booking ahead for their 2021 pantomimes.
“Of course, we hope that it will be possible for theatres to perform safely to fuller audiences long before then.”
Christian and Lloyd said: “In 2018 we set out to celebrate the heart of the Dick Whittington story – that London has always been, and will always be, enriched by the brilliant brains and invigorating spirit of those who come from all over the world and call it home.
“That’s a story we want to tell now more than ever, and in quintessentially British fashion: with irreverent jokes, talking animals, awesome songs and wholesale, destructive silliness.”
Bennett said: “We are inordinately excited to be talking about a show, never mind having the privilege of being able to stage one right now.
“We are facing such challenging times, as artists and as an industry, so we feel so lucky to have the NT able to provide this opportunity.
“We cannot wait to bring audiences (safely) into the Olivier and allow them to remember the joy of theatre for a night.”
The National has been streaming plays – and asking for donations – with the likes of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch, and One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden, airing on its YouTube channel.