Nick Hytner wins Theatre Book Prize

Published: 23 June 2018
Reporter: Tom Howard

Rory Kinnear and Sir Nicholas Hytner Credit: Ben Wooldridge
In the Grand Saloon at the Theatre Royal Howard Loxton opens the event Credit: Ben Wooldridge
Sir Nicholas Hytner Credit: Ben Wooldridge
Rory Kinnear and Sir Nicholas Hytner (centre) with the judges, the short listed authors and their publishers Credit: Ben Wooldridge

The crowd gathering in the Grand Saloon at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on the morning of 21 June 2018 weren’t there to see 42nd Street but to attend the award of the Society for Theatre Research Theatre Book Prize. It’s an annual event that is gaining an increasingly important role in drawing attention to the excellent books that are published each year about British theatre.

From over 60 entries submitted by publishers, the judges selected a short list of six, which we reported on a few weeks ago.

That achievement was celebrated by presentations to their authors made by eminent actor Rory Kinnear, who is just completing a run in the Scottish Play at the National Theatre. But which of them was going to go away with the big prize?

Before that announcement, the judges talked about some of the many books, whetting the appetite of the audience. Among them there is something to match the interest of anyone who has the theatre bug whether professional, academic or theatregoer. There are biographies for those who fancy finding out more about an actor’s life story, the history of a theatre company, theatre practice back in Shakespeare’s time or the latest academic view on immersive performance with added little treats like a book about actors who specialised in performing as monkeys.

When Rory Kinnear returned to the platform to announce the winner, he glanced at the name before announcing it and his warm description of the unnamed recipient meant the cat was already out of the bag. The book that had beaten the others was Balancing Acts by Nicholas Hytner and it was obvious from the audience reaction that this was an appropriate and popular choice.

One of the judges, Paul Miller, Artistic Director of the Orange Tree Theatre, had already described the book as, “a notably candid book from such a famously private person. It opens with a bravura account, flirting with gossip but keeping this side of naming names, of the life of the Director of the National Theatre…. [It] makes a fantastic case, at once sophisticated and robust for a theatre with a generous popular gesture at its heart: a gloriously fitting coda to 12 years at the National Theatre where he showed us how that’s done.”

Clearly delighted to be receiving the award, and especially from a close professional colleague whom he greeted with a warm hug, Sir Nicholas modestly said, “as well as an opportunity to get off my chest and on to paper all of the stories that have built up over the years, writing this book has also been an experience that has enabled me to think about exactly what I have learned and whom I have learned it from.”

In addition to Miller, this year’s judges were Jeffery Richards, Emeritus Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University, and theatre critic Sam Marlowe. They were chaired by critic and former publisher Howard Loxton representing the Society for Theatre Research (and one of our own team of critics).