The right man...
The National Theatre has a fine tradition of selecting the right man (still!) to direct it.
This morning, The Board of the National Theatre revealed that Rufus Norris is to take over. He will certainly have a tough act to follow, with highlights in the Hytner regime including The History Boys and One Man, Two Guvnors, two of the very best theatrical presentations in the period since his appointment in April 2003.
In its 50-year history, the theatre has only seen five people holding this role, which is some achievement given the difficulties that it entails.
The future Lord Olivier had the pleasure of being in at its inception and of leading the company to the brink of its new home on the South Bank. He was succeeded by Sir Peter Hall and the line continued with Sir Trevor Nunn, Sir Richard Eyre and through to March 2015, Sir Nicholas Hytner.
This is a mighty but varied group who all had one thing in common: the ability to manage a large organisation at the same time as creating an artistic ethos and directing a good number of the very finest productions of their time. Lord Olivier went one step further, acting as well as directing and producing.
In the run-up to the announcement, a good number of names were bandied about with Sir Kenneth Branagh, an obvious successor to Olivier, and Danny Boyle, the highest profile names but Ian Rickson, the former top man at the Royal Court, and Rufus Norris perhaps seemed better bets.
There was also the suggestion that, following the recent appointments of Josie Rourke and Vicky Featherstone at the Donmar and Royal Court, perhaps it was time for a female artistic director at the National. There is little doubt that this would be a forward-thinking move but the most obvious candidates to be the first woman to take this job such as this pair have almost all recently taken on new, long-term jobs.
John Makinson, Chairman of the National Theatre, said: "In setting out to find a new Director for the National Theatre, the Board looked for an individual with a creative reputation that would command the respect and support of British theatre, and with the generosity of spirit that has characterised Nick Hytner's period as Director.
"Rufus Norris has both those qualities in abundance. He is an exciting choice, someone who will build on the National Theatre's present reputation as one of the most admired and innovative performing arts organisations in the world. We are fortunate that he has chosen to join us."
Nicholas Hytner added: "I could not be more delighted that the Board of the National Theatre has appointed Rufus Norris as the National's next Director. He has been a superb Associate Director for the last two years, actively involved in repertoire planning, and delivering a series of outstanding productions.
"His work as a director is always searching, deeply considered and adventurous and I have no doubt he will bring these qualities to the running of the National. His appointment will be welcomed with great excitement both within the National and in the theatre at large."
Rufus Norris said: "This appointment is a great honour and I am thrilled at the prospect and challenge of leading this exceptional organisation, where it has been a privilege to work under the inspirational leadership of Nick Hytner. I am tremendously grateful to the Board of the National Theatre for their support.
"The National is an extraordinary place, full of extraordinary people, and I look forward with relish to the task ahead—that being to fill our theatres with the most exciting, accessible and ground-breaking work our unique and broad community of artists has to offer."
Norris is a brave choice, in that he has not previously run a theatre, but the new Director Designate has a strong pedigree, perhaps best represented by three big hits in contrasting styles: Festen, London Road (at the National) and Cabaret.
The long lead time will give him an opportunity to become familiar with the responsibilities that this new job will entail and also to build a programme of work to delight audiences around the world who flock to the National Theatre or watch live productions in cinemas and enjoy what has become the finest theatrical programme available.