PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Nicholas Hytner

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Nicholas Hytner Thanks to American producer Bob Boyett and Bill Haber, Royal National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner is quite used to taking an interest in the annual Tony Awards ceremony.
Nicholas Hytner
Nicholas Hytner Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Each of the five National productions Boyett and Haber have transferred from London to Broadway have received a few Tony nominations; among the nods Jumpers for Best Revival of a Play; Democracy and The Pillowman for Best Play; and This History Boys for Best Play. The latter won the prize in question, as well as five other Tonys, including one for Hytner himself, who directed the wildly successful Alan Bennett drama. This year is no different. While Coram Boy isn't up for Best Play, it did get six other Tony nominations. Hytner talked to Playbill.com about his American connection as well as some of the coming attractions at the National.

Playbill.com: Coram Boy is the fifth National Theatre play that's been brought over by producers Bob Boyett and Bill Haber. Are you somewhat surprised by what shows they choose to bring over?
Nicholas Hytner: Yes, I think I am. But I've learned not to be surprised, because they work on their own particular enthusiasms. They seem to me to be exceptional producers in that regard. They produce because they like it. They don't produce because they think they're going to make a killing.

Playibll.com: Were you surprised when they said they wanted to bring in Coram Boy?
NH: Yes, I was. It's a huge show. I take quite seriously my responsibility to the younger audience. We did this very much with that teenage audience in mind.

Playbill.com: I interviewed the director, Melly Still, some time ago and she said you actually found the book "Coram Boy," which the play is based in, while browsing in a book store.
NH: Well, actually, I was listening to the radio one day. There was a book review program and this book sounded really good. I went out and bought it, specifically because it was a genre we might be interested in. It sounded like something we might want to do. As soon as we put His Dark Materials on stage, we could see there was a huge demand for this stuff. It wasn't being done. So, finding those stories for that audience that takes its parents, rather than vice-versa, was what I was really keen on. Word quickly spread on this one and we brought it back.

Playbill.com: Coram Boy was shepherded to a great extent by your associate Tom Morris, who has a couple projects coming up in the new season.
NH: Yes, he does. In the same genre, he's looking after War Horse, and he's actually co-directing it. And he's adapted A Matter of Life and Death with Emma Rice. Playbill.com: Is it your intention to always have the kind of spectacular theatre represented by His Dark Materials, Coram Boy and War Horse in your line-up at the National?
NH: Spectacular, but only in the context of this particular genre. It was something that had been neglected. There's obviously children's theatre being done, and the National have done adaptations of the great Edwardian and Victorian children's classics. They can often be wonderful, really moving. That's the kind of theatre that parents bring their kids to. Engaging the teenage audience just as it is sorting out what it likes, what it is excited at, engaging them so they hassle their parents to come — that seems to me to be absolutely essential. We have these big stages. We can tell big stories with large casts in theatrically adventurous ways. Spectacular for its own sake is not an interest. But large-scale engagements of the teenage imagination seems to me one thing we have to do if we're going to be a subsidized national institution. And we love doing it.

Playbill.com: Recently, you had to take over the direction of The Rose Tattoo when director Stephen Pimlott died. Was that a difficult experience?
NH: Well, it was difficult for all the obvious reasons. It was personally very difficult for everybody involved. It had been a play Stephen and I had been talking about before he got his cancer diagnosis. When he went into remission and we talked again about his doing that play, both he and I knew that there was a possibility that he wouldn't get through it. We talked about me taking it over if he wasn't able to complete it. It wasn't a shock [when he died], but it was nevertheless the worst possible outcome. It was awful. But I'm really glad that he prepared and rehearsed it for the time that he did.

Playbill.com: Tattoo starred Zoe Wanamaker. She'll be starring in your production of Much Ado About Nothing as well. Is she one of your favorite actresses?
NH: Yeah. I hope so. (Laughs)

Playbill.com: You've said that you thought your collaboration with The History Boys playwright Alan Bennett was the best thing that's ever happened to you artistically. I know he's not the most prolific of playwrights, but are you two going to do something new soon?
NH: Not only is he not prolific, but he keeps his cards closer to his chest than any other writer I know. There are writers who, as soon as they start to talk about what they're writing, can't write it anymore. I completely respect that.

Playbill.com: Are there any new additions to the coming National Theatre season you can announce?
NH: Peter Handke's The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, which we'll be doing right at the beginning of next year. That's a vast cast. It's been done over the past year all over the Continent. Nobody says anything. Hardly any words are spoken.

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