Laureation address: Rufus Norris

Lauren Sykes
Tuesday 28 November 2023

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters
Laureation by Revd Dr Donald MacEwan, University Chaplain

Tuesday 28 November 2023 – afternoon ceremony

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Rufus Norris.

Rufus Norris has been the Artistic Director of the National Theatre, based in London, since 2015, but is no stranger to this part of Scotland – his wife Tanya Ronder’s mother is from Fife, and they spend part of their time every year in the East Neuk village of St Monans, where they were married.

Before taking up this influential position in the National Theatre, Rufus produced and directed for the stage and occasionally the screen, telling a range of stories exploring the truth of human experience. His childhood was spent largely in Africa and Asia, including years in Ethiopia and Malaysia, and on returning to live in the United Kingdom, Rufus was struck by the lack of awareness of colonial history here. The costs and exploitation of the British Empire and the interdependence of people of different races and cultures in rebuilding Britain following the Second World War became the bedrock of his artistic exploration.

As Artistic Director of the National Theatre he has focussed firmly and creatively on telling these varied, significant, interwoven stories of and beyond this nation. For example, Small Island, adapted from Andrea Levy’s novel of people born in Jamaica and in England encountering each other in post-war Britain, and Nye, about the creation of the National Health Service, explores in part the huge contribution of people from across the then Empire.

To allow these stories to be heard and seen, Rufus has ensured over and over again that the writer is in the room as the work is being created, for example, in the re-telling of Chekhov’s Three Sisters by Inua Ellams, set on the brink of the Biafran Civil War in West Africa. He has also championed verbatim theatre, foregrounding the words of people experiencing contemporary life, from My country: a work in progress reflecting on Brexit, to Grenfell: in the words of survivors, about the terrible fire in a block of flats in London in 2017.

In other ways, Rufus has moved the National Theatre in important directions. He has led a significant green agenda, in its physical spaces, operations and theatrical productions. He has fostered the National Theatre reaching further into the United Kingdom and beyond, with productions on screens via National Theatre Live, not least in the University’s own Byre Theatre. And during the Covid pandemic, he represented publicly the urgent need for the creative arts to be supported.

Earlier this year it was announced that Rufus will be stepping down from the National Theatre in spring 2025. We can look forward to new collaborations and productions from him, as he finds more ways to tell, to entertain, to celebrate, to lament, to uncover and to inspire who we are.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to theatre and in telling the stories which reflect the nation in its diversity, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Rufus Norris.

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