Libby Purves

Lifting the Curtain

Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at the National Theatre

By Nicholas Hytner

Jonathan Cape 314pp £20 order from our bookshop

Few of the National Theatre’s leaders have made such an impact as Nicholas Hytner, its artistic director from 2003 to 2015. His insistence on aiming for capacity audiences and sponsorship to make tickets cheaper was one revolution. Others – also to the credit of the National Theatre’s chief executive, Nick Starr – were NT Live, which saw the live broadcast of plays in cinemas, and transfers and tours making serious money. Yet in many ways Hytner is a traditional producer-director: for all his scholarship, he is a showman with a taste for big casts and big stages, eschewing black-box preciousness and admitting at times to ‘an inner voice that says “booooring!”’ In an early, daringly raunchy staging of Jerry Springer: The Opera, he approvingly cited the compere’s stamping introduction: ‘Have yourself a good time!’

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