Rufus Norris Replacing Nicholas Hytner as New Royal National Theatre Chief

By James Inverne on Oct 16, 2013 11:58 PM EDT

No more bets, gentlemen, the most hotly contested position in British--and maybe world--theater has just been filled. Rufus Norris will take over Britain's National Theatre from 2015, when the (excellent) incumbent Nicholas Hytner steps down.

The job has an importance far beyond the doorstep of its home on London's South Bank. There is, quite simply, no more influential theater in the world. Its flagship productions, which travel regularly to the West End, Broadway and beyond (and, every so often, end up as films, as with Alan Bennett's The Madness of King George and The History Boys, both directed by Hytner) are only the most obvious manifestations of its reach. Stars are made within those walls: writers, directors, actors (in recent times, Hugh Jackman was spotted by the X-Men producers for his turn in Oklahoma!, and Dominic Cooper was one of the aforementioned history boys). But beyond that, the little discussed National Theatre Studio is a creative hothouse for theater practitioners from all over the world, nurturing, incubating and perfecting projects and often sending them out to live their life without anyone ever realizing where they originated.

For the music world, there could be two knock-on effects. One is that Rufus Norris will probably return to opera. National Theatre chiefs seem to like to prove their mettle in the lyric arts, and Hytner and his predecessors Richard Eyre, Trevor Nunn and Peter Hall all turned up at opera houses (Hall, of course, has been as prolific in opera as he was in legit theater). Norris has dabbled--his Don Giovanni at English National Opera was a critical disaster, but every truly creative soul is allowed one of those (it's called the right to fail). He also tried his hand at reinventing the genre alongside pop composer Damon Albarn (of Blur fame), Dr. Dee. So, we can expect him to return to the genre, or whatever he thinks the genre should or could become.

The other big effect will be that, presumably, Hytner will now have more time on his hands for his opera directing career. He has long been one of the relatively few top-notch, legit theater directors who is also one of the finest opera directors, his classic Handel Xerxes and Mozart Magic Flute, both at ENO, predating his NT stint. Not that he'd been idle on the opera front while in the top job; his Verdi Don Carlo at Covent Garden (happily, filmed and available on DVD) was marvellously vital and a worthy successor to the previous production by Luc Bondy.

And there'll be a less tangible effect. Whatever group of core directors Norris gathers around him will effectively form a new artistic identity for the National, and in turn that powerful creative perspective, at the head, as it were, of the global traveling community of arts makers, will influence many others who will spread the word. But then, Norris is a questing, interrogative kind of director, so these are likely to be exciting times and (one would hope) unquiet ones.

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TagsRufus Norris, Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, Alan Bennett, Hugh Jackman, Dominic Cooper, Mozart, Damon Albarn, Dr. Dee, English National Opera, Verdi, Don Carlo, Covent Garden, Luc Bondy

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