The National news

LONDON — A newly adaptable Lyttelton Theater auditorium was the centerpiece Aug. 8 of Trevor Nunn’s first press conference in many a month, in which the Royal National Theater a.d. announced the creation of two new unconventional playing areas forged in and around what Nunn termed the South Bank complex’s “most conventional space” — the National’s mid-sized proscenium arch 900-seater.

As of next May, for a period of 5-1/2 months, the Lyttelton will be home to a £1.5 million ($2.1 million) project known as “Transformation” that will divide the theater into a new 650-seat arena theater and a 100-seat studio, thereby raising the number of NT venues from three to four.

Under the guidance of the project’s associate director Mick Gordon and associate producer Joseph Smith, the arena stage will present five new pieces, four of them for 24 or so perfs, with one 10-performance show in the middle.

Gordon mentioned Patrick Marber, Matthew Bourne and Deborah Warner as theater artists who had expressed interest in working within a smaller, more flexible Lyttelton as opposed to an auditorium that can often seem colder and far larger than it actually is.

Taking its cue from such London venues as Notting Hill’s Gate Theater (which Gordon and, before him, Stephen Daldry used to run) and the Royal Court Theater Upstairs, the newly carved loft space will allow for four principal pieces from some of the country’s more improvisatory troupes, as well as five new shows developed in association with the National Theater Studio.

The loft, says Nunn, “is the missing space — the fourth auditorium that we don’t have.”

The National, of course, has embarked upon similar experiments before. Several seasons ago, it turned the no-less-tricky Olivier — the building’s largest theater — into a more intimate, in-the-round venue that met with mixed success: Simon McBurney’s production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” got regular ovations, while a revival of “Marat/Sade” more or less fizzled out.

“Change in an organization this big is difficult to accomplish,” Nunn says. But the innovations inherent in Transformation suggest he is trying.

Send in the stars; Close called for new ‘Streetcar’

It’s autograph time at the Lyttelton once the Transformation season ends. That’s where Nunn will house his already announced straight-run revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” starring Glenn Close, in fall 2002. (Tennessee Williams’ play, says Nunn, “has very unusual design requirements” for which the Lyttelton has exactly the right dimensions.)

Another familiar name, Nicole Kidman, is in negotiations to make her National debut toward the end of next year under Nunn’s direction — this time in the Cottesloe — starring in Ibsen’s “Lady From the Sea.”

“It is very go,” Nunn says. “We’re all extremely excited about it.”

So was Kidman during a chat with Variety several weeks ago from the British location shoot of Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours”: “There’s a time in your life when you do Ibsen,” she said, “and if you don’t do it, then you never do. ‘Lady From the Sea’ is such a tough and rich play, and what it says, I think, still works today.”

Nor are homegrown names absent from the more immediate NT repertoire: Rufus Sewell will play the title role in a 40th-anniversary revival of John Osborne’s “Luther,” opening Oct. 5, while John Wood and Corin Redgrave lead a 25th-anniversary production of Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land,” directed by the author and opening in December.

As for the same month’s “South Pacific,” the National could well be seeing an American Nellie Forbush. Discussions are afoot for Lauren Kennedy, an alumna of Nunn’s “Sunset Boulevard” Stateside, to wash that man right out of her hair.

Berkeley bravi; theater mavens pick summer favorites

Staying with the National, the complex made a clean sweep Aug. 3 of the annual Berkeley Awards, a deeply unofficial polling of 40 or so theater buffs who took in 15 shows (in some cases, many more) during their yearly summer immersion in London legit.

Howard Davies’ significantly recast revival of “All My Sons” was named in the categories of best overall production and actress (Laurie Metcalf), while Ben Daniels’ Chris Keller tied for best actor with Ron Cook, who plays the title role in Patrick Marber’s “Howard Katz.”

Nicholas Hytner’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” won Hytner the director prize, with the show’s Ashley Martin-Davis cited for design. In the overall scheme of awards, do the Berkeleys matter? Perhaps not, but bear one thing in mind: These drama buffs were the first group two seasons ago to fete Stephen Dillane for his perf in “The Real Thing,” well before the Tom Stoppard revival won the same actor a Drama Desk and a Tony.

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