English Press Acclaim Nicholas Hytner's Appointment at National

News   English Press Acclaim Nicholas Hytner's Appointment at National

The reaction of the national press to Nicholas Hytner's appointment to the top job at the National Theatre - and, in effect therefore of British theatre, has been overwhelmingly positive.

The only dissenting voice has been not from the press but from a potential candidate, Vena Dhupa - the executive director of the Nottingham Playhouse - and she was attacking the selection process, not Hytner himself.

The Financial Times focussed on the business side to the position, referring to his need to "balance the books" and that he would be "taking on a £20 million business with a current deficit of more than £600,000."

The Guardian opened grudgingly with a socio-political swipe, describing Hytner as: "The fourth white, male, middle-aged, middle-class Cambridge graduate in a row" to be artistic director." The Telegraph implicitly took exception to Hytner's desire to move beyond an exclusively white, middle-aged and middle-class audience. Although in a separate article the Telegraph's drama critic, Charles Spencer, welcomed the appointment while warning, apropos of the above remarks, that "in his search for the young and the new, Hytner shouldn't forget that its the older folk that pay the bills."

Several papers commented on Hytner's ability, as a director, to use the large stages at the National to great effect - quoting his successes with Carousel, The Wind in the Willows and The Madness of George as well as his ability to take risks with large-scale, controversial new plays, like Mark Ravenhill's Mother Clap's Molly House, currently playing at the Lyttleton theatre.

The Daily Mail, whose drama critic Michael Coveney has criticized Trevor Nunn's direction of the National Theatre in the past, curiously didn't cover the story at all.

The Independent also picked up on Hytner's desire to reach out beyond the white and middle class. Although it makes an eye-catching opening paragraph, Hytner actually only made the comment in direct reaction to a question at the press conference. His own emphasis, which seems to have been missed by most of the press, was on the quality of writing - "Playwrights are at the center of what the National is about".

Similarly, Hytner stressed that he would like to explore new writers and areas of writing - blurring the barriers between drama, dance and music - and that he would look to people from different disciplines, cultures and nations - he was keen to involve European writers and directors in particular. This was very different from the apparent repudiation of the majority of London's theatregoers that the press have suggested.

This in itself indicates that he will find it necessary to have a relatively thick skin (as Benedict Nightingale puts it in the Times today) when it comes to newspaper coverage of his term as Director - which begins in April 2003. Or, as Nicholas de Jong rather poetically put it in The Evening Standard, he will need to live up to a reputation as "a butterfly with nerves of steel."

—by Paul Webb Theatrenow