Heights for Hytner

Royal National Theater taps helmer for a.d.

LONDON — Nicholas Hytner has been named artistic director of the Royal National Theater, confirming months of speculation that the director of stage, opera and film had secured the top post in the British — and, arguably, the English-speaking –theater.

Hytner will follow Trevor Nunn into the job in April 2003. Nunn told a press conference Tuesday the move was “good news for everybody concerned with the National Theater past, present and future.”

Hytner spoke of his appointment as “a new challenge” at “a company (and) a building that I know very well.” His tenure is for an initial five-year term, with his salary pegged at about £120,000 ($175,000) a year.

A regular National Theater presence since his production of “Ghetto” in 1989, Hytner was one of several associate directors between 1990 and 1997. His NT resume includes some of the South Bank complex’s biggest hits, including “The Wind in the Willows” (1991), “Carousel” (1992) and “The Madness of George III” (1991).

Away from the NT, he is best known theatrically for “Miss Saigon,” the last of the 1980s British musical behemoths.

At the National last spring he directed “The Winter’s Tale,” while his staging of Mark Ravenhill’s “Mother Clap’s Molly House” opened there Sept. 4 to mostly positive reviews.

Hytner had been assumed to be the top choice of the National’s board, especially once Sam Mendes and Stephen Daldry absented themselves from consideration “in light of other things in their careers,” said NT board chairman Christopher Hogg. (Translation: thriving film careers.)

Hytner’s film career has decelerated somewhat since his movie directing debut in 1994 with “The Madness of King George,” based on Alan Bennett’s play. Asked whether he was worried that the NT appointment would take him out of circulation for film work, Hytner replied, “I absolutely love making movies, and I love this place more; it’s as simple as that.”

Before coming to the National, Hytner is helming what may be this Broadway season’s most anticipated new musical, “Sweet Smell of Success,” which starts rehearsals Nov. 5 prior to a tryout in Chicago and a New York preem in March.

Although Hytner has never run a cultural org of any kind, “I have seen how things work all over the place. I think that stands me in good stead.”

Hytner deflected criticism that as a white, middle-class, Oxbridge grad — much like Peter Hall, Richard Eyre and Nunn in the National hot seat before him — he merely represented more of the same.

“I’m a member,” Hytner said, “of all sorts of interesting minorities.”

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