Appetite is “the number one qualification” one needs to be Director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner said today as Rufus Norris was named as his successor. “Rufus has it, as well as talent, affection and respect.”
“I’ve seen so many names mentioned in connection with the National Theatre,” Hytner, who will be replaced by Norris in April 2015, said. “They don’t have appetite, so they don’t even get to the starting point.”
Hytner was full of praise and support for Norris as the pair met an eager press pack to announce Norris’ appointment at the South Bank venue. With Norris only officially given the position yesterday, precise details of his plans were thin on the ground, though the he did hint at what we might expect.
“I’m enormously grateful to the board for the care and clarity with which they have gone about this process,” he told reporters. “I’m hugely grateful to Nick not only for guiding me over the last few years, but for the leadership and strength that he has and the fact that he has left this theatre in the state that it is now. This place could not be in ruder health. Obviously there are plans afoot, but as I found out yesterday that I’d be sitting here today, they’re not solid yet.
“The way Nick works has been to try and get the best artists to try and do their best work here. I will certainly attempt to continue that tradition. There will be other artists coming in, I’d like to cast the net wider, but I can’t be more specific than that. Hopefully I’ll bring fresh energy to it and build on the enormous success story that this theatre is at the moment.”
The RADA trained actor-turned-director, the first former performer to run the iconic company since its founder Sir Laurence Olivier, has been an associate at the National Theatre since 2011 and, having not run a venue before, is aware he has much to learn in the 18 months before he takes the reins.
“There is a fantastic team of people [at the National],” he said, “who really know what they’re doing. The skill becomes about being able to listen to people, being able to delegate, being able to absorb and knowing when I don’t have the answer. I’ve never been afraid of not having the answers in the work I’ve done and I’m not afraid now. If you’re surrounded by great people, they will have the answers. I’m very collaborative. I don’t care where the best ideas come from as long as they keep coming.
“Nick wasn’t the spokesperson for the arts, when he took over, that he is now. I’m very glad that I’ve got a bit of time before [the press] put me under too much pressure. Certainly I feel very passionate about this art form. I feel very passionate about subsidy and the power of what we do, the importance of what we do, and I look forward to gaining the tools to express that.”
With regards to exactly how the top of the organisation will look when Norris assumes the Directorship, there was a touch of ambiguity. Nick Starr, who has worked alongside Hytner as the venue’s Executive Director, is also leaving, but rather than seeking a like for like replacement the National board will discuss the “best leadership structure” going forward with Norris.
“The theatre’s in a very different place than it was when the two Nicks turned up,” Norris said. “We’ve got to look at the future of it with that in mind. It’s grown exponentially and that will need a bit of imaginative thinking.”
That imagination is one of the reasons Norris has been chosen to take the role, as is his reputation within the UK theatre industry.
“Ten minutes ago,” Hytner told the press, “I walked onto the Lyttelton stage and introduced Rufus to a packed house of National Theatre staff and company. There was an immediate standing ovation and a roar louder than I have ever heard in the building. Rufus, more than anybody I can think of, commands the support and respect of the theatre both here, and more generally, that the Director of the National Theatre needs.”
There has been similar support shown from colleagues outside the National. Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court, took to Twitter to say: “Hooray. That’s truly fantastic news about Rufus Norris. A brilliant man and thrilling director. The future is bright.” Josie Rourke, Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, tweeted, “Just woken up in America to the marvellous headline that Rufus Norris is the new NT AD. What great news for theatre.”
James Graham, whose Olivier-nominated play This House was one of the National Theatre’s big hits of 2012, posted: “If the work represent the man, then Rufus Norris will run the National Theatre with integrity, curiosity, and warmth”, while The Commitments and Trafalgar Transformed director Jamie Lloyd summed up his thoughts and, judging by the atmosphere in the press conference and the response online, that of the theatre industry, with a simple: “Rufus Norris? Brilliant news.”