Image: BBC America.
The very first season at the National Theatre under the direction of its new bosses Rufus Norris and Tessa Ross will see the return of 37-year-old British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor to the stage for the first time in fifteen years.
For British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, best-known for his lead role in the award-winning film 12 Years A Slave, it all began with theatre performances.
Ejiofor, born and raised in south London, began performing in school plays at the age of 13 when he attended Dulwich College. In 1995 he enrolled at the National Youth Theatre.
It was in 2000 that Ejiofor’s theatrical talent was really showcased and became widely recognised when starred in the play Blue/Orange at the Royal National Theatre and Duchess Theatre. For his part in the play Ejiofor received the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer (2000) and was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor the following year.
In 2000 Ejiofor’s performance as Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet also earned him critical acclaim and he was nominated for the Ian Charleson Award.
Fast-forward to 2008 and Ejiofor played Othello alongside Ewan McGregor, as Iago, at the Donmar Warehouse. That year Ejiofor was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his Othello performance and was also presented with an OBE by the queen for his contribution to the arts.
Today Ejiofor is perhaps better known as a film actor, particularly after his lead role in 12 Years A Slave, for which he was Oscar-nominated and won a BAFTA. Most recently Ejiofor, who is of Nigerian heritage, starred alongside fellow British actress Thandie Newton in the film adaptation of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun.
This April Ejiofor will take the title role in a new adaptation of the 15th century morality play Everyman which has been orchestrated by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
The National Theatre’s new bosses Rufus Norris and Tessa Ross, who will take over from outgoing Nicholas Hytner, have expressed their ambitions to make the theatre more inclusive, diverse and accessible. “The work we make over the coming years will strive to be as open, as diverse, as collaborative and as national as possible,” said the pair in a joint statement. They added, “This first season is just a beginning, but it contains the seeds of what is to come.”
Mr Norris also said in a separate statement: "There are issues about diversity and representation that we take very seriously, but you don't have to look very far down my CV to see that I'm committed to that."
The new approach, which seeks to make the theatre available to more people (from all walks of life) will include free screenings of the theatre’s Shakespeare play for schoolchildren nationwide to aid them in their studies. One such play is Othello, starring black British television and theatre actor Adrian Lester, OBE, in the title role.
Everyman will open for previews on Wednesday 22 April and will then run through to Thursday 16 July. (The final performance will be screened live in cinemas across the country at 7pm.)