“I’m prouder of Mother Courage’ than of anything I’ve ever done, ” says director Jonathan Kent, who has reason to be, given the near-unanimous raves for his Royal National Theatre revival (see review, page 88) of the Bertolt Brecht play. (The startling exception: The Guardian’s Michael Billington, who wrote the first lengthy negative review I’ve seen from him.)

Asked to comment on local musings in the press that the production constitutes his audition piece to succeed Richard Eyre as National Theatre artistic director in 1997, Kent was no less emphatic: “That is absolutely silly. The absurdity now is that anytime one does anything, it’s seen as an audition. It’s a problem of the press, not of the practitioners: I have no idea who is going to take over from Richard Eyre.”

Not that Kent is sitting idly by the phone. Early in 1996, he expects to transfer to the West End the new play “Gangster No. 1, ” which he first directed in September at his and co-artistic director Ian McDiarmid’s Almeida Theater in Islington. He then stages “Tartuffe” in March at the Almeida and is planning to reteam with his Tony-winning Hamlet, Ralph Fiennes, for an Almeida production in 1996 – the pair are mulling over several plays, says the director, none of them by Shakespeare. In addition, he says he would gladly take “Mother Courage” to New York if a way could be found to make such a big show financially viable.

But is his star, Diana Rigg, up to the eight-performance-a-week grind hauling Courage’s cart? (The National’s repertory system, by comparison, allows for ample time off.) Says Kent: “Diana is an amazingly resilient woman.”

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