Congratulations to Rufus Norris on the news that he has been appointment to follow in the footsteps of Nicholas Hytner to become the next artistic director of the National Theatre. Generally seen as just about favourite for the role, he has clearly exuded a behind-the-scenes confidence that has outshone his relative lack of experience.
I have read more about his work than seen it – but what I have seen has been absolutely first rate, and whilst the National has looked to broaden its horizons in recent years it has always felt that it was just dipping its toe in the waters. With Norris in post it is perhaps time that the National will truly dive headlong in what it is to produce theatre in, and for, modern Britain.
Hytner has left some big shoes to fill – and clearly they decided not to fill them with more of the same, the National have also sidestepped the opportunity for a ‘big name’. However in all reality what chance did Daldry, Mendes and Branagh really have if they were not willing to forego their cinematic commitments? Watch the bun fight when Kevin Spacey steps down at the Old Vic; a theatre that has more than understood how a ‘celebrity’ name can be a huge draw, vastly outweighing any accompanying problems.
In leaving Norris the Shed space, Hytner’s has bequeathed an excellent legacy that will pay dividends. It gives him room, in those important early years, to work in a smaller, less pressurised space to develop innovative work that may be initially hard to put though the Olivier. It gives Norris breathing space whilst he sets about changing any internal negative attitudes to his direction, and to clear house where houses need clearing.
A couple of years down the line, we may be looking at a National that really does reflect Britain today, and whilst the lack of Shakespeare is a concern (or at least it is for the purists) but perhaps fresh eyes on the playwright is really what is needed.
Norris is an excellent choice and I can’t wait to see how he leaves his mark.