This week’s award for “Good Closure” goes to National Theater head honcho Nicholas Hytner. Having let slip at Tuesday’s press conference that David Hare was writing an untitled play for the theater next year, he was asked about the supposed rift between the two of them.
At the March announcement of the Broadway premiere for Hare’s newest play, “The Vertical Hour,” he criticized the National’s scheduling of “Stuff Happens.” The run of that play could not be extended due to the theater’s repertory scheduling policy, which allows for only short-term runs. Hare was widely quoted as being “frustrated by a system that didn’t allow people who wanted to, to see my play.” With a good-humored shrug, Hytner replied crisply, “He was pissed off; we were sorry.”
Indeed, Hytner was unusually bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: Not only has he extended his contract for another five years beyond his initial 2003-08 period, he also was presiding over the presentation of an annual report of almost uniformly good news.
A year ago, he had warned that attendance would slip. After all, the 2004-05 season had hit a record-breaking 94% capacity. That figure had been achieved by extended SRO runs of “The History Boys” and the two-part epic adaptation of Philip Pullman’s wildly popular children’s fantasy “His Dark Materials.”
Yet even without those two monster hits, the National still managed to play 17 new productions and six revivals across the year at 84% capacity, far exceeding the budgeting target of 75%. Around 700,000 people saw shows at the venue’s London home. Add 30 weeks of national and international touring plus the Broadway run of “The History Boys,” and the number of people watching National Theater productions climbs to an eye-widening 1.3 million.
Next month’s Broadway closure notwithstanding, “The History Boys” continues to swell the National’s coffers. The movie incarnation, opening in the U.K. on Oct. 13, will add a minimum of £500,000 ($937,000) to its finances. Hytner and his executive director, Nick Starr, also confirmed that if a theater can be found, the play finally will transfer to the West End. In an unprecedented move, that run will be presented by the National’s production arm, National Angels, rather than by outside producers.
Alongside a raft of good statistics — the brand-new audiences brought in by the continuing Travelex £10 ticket program, 30% return to further productions — Hytner was particularly buoyant about the artistic growth that has seen new work flourish not in the safety of the small Cottesloe space, but in the Olivier, the largest of the National’s three stages.
He also took the opportunity to announce future projects, including Ralph Fiennes in “Oedipus,” to be directed by Jonathan Kent in 2008. Before that, there will be his own production of Etherege’s Restoration comedy “The Man of Mode” and an adaptation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s fantasy classic “A Matter of Life and Death.”
Marianne Elliott, newly appointed as one of the associate directors, is preparing a new adaptation of Zola’s torrid “Therese Raquin” and is developing “War Horse,” by Nick Stafford from the novel by Michael Morpurgo. It tells the story of World War I through the eyes of a horse. Animal rights activists need not worry: The horse is a giant creation by South African puppet company Handspring. As Hytner joked, “I’ve always been part P.T. Barnum.”