When Michael Grandage recently announced the slate of his eponymous new company’s West End season, it garnered headlines in both London and New York, not only because of the star power employed in the productions but also because it formalized the fact that Grandage has taken himself out of the running for the future job that many assumed was his for the taking — artistic director of the National Theater.
To be clear, the NT’s immensely successful a.d. Nicholas Hytner is not ankling any time this year or next, but that hasn’t stopped speculation, since Hytner has indicated that once the organization’s £70 million($110 million) building project to improve its Thames-side home is complete — at the end of 2014 or early 2015 — he will depart. And given that he was appointed in September 2001, 18 months ahead of taking the post, the NT’s board must have at least half an eye on finding his successor.
Grandage was widely regarded as the annointed one, not least because he’d learned much from Hytner when, in his former career, he acted in several of Hytner’s early landmark productions. Since then, his reign at Sheffield’s Crucible Theater and his decade at the Donmar showed him to be as skilled a producer as he is a director.
With Grandage publicly announcing he will not run another theater building — in addition to legit work, he’s developing a movie project with Harvey Weinstein and John Logan — the field is wide open. The contenders are likely to include “War Horse” co-director Tom Morris, who developed “Jerry Springer — the Opera” and nurtured a host of small- and midscale companies as the former a.d. of Battersea Arts Center. Morris became a producer at the NT before leaving in 2009 to revivify and run regional house Bristol Old Vic.
Rupert Goold, a.d. of Headlong theater company and a regular NT director, is equally well-placed. Industry rumor has it that he was recently in the running for the top Royal Shakespeare Company post, but pulled out of the race to remain available.
Thea Sharrock, another freelance helmer with NT credits (“13,” “After the Dance”), is widely expected to throw her hat in the ring. She’s slated to direct “The Bodyguard” in the West End in autumn.
The smart money, however, is on Dominic Cooke, whose tenure at the Royal Court has been outstanding on every level from artistic to financial, and who leaves that post next spring. His erstwhile Royal Court exec director Kate Horton has already been hired as the NT’s deputy exec, which more than lays the groundwork for his appointment. The only thing stopping him is that the gap between his Royal Court exit and the start of the NT job may be too brief for him to recharge his batteries and develop a freelance career.
The final two candidates, Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes, have run major London theaters (the Royal Court and the Donmar, respectively) both have U.K. gigs lined up — Daldry is co-directing the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, Mendes is helming his first musical, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” next spring. Might either of these two old-guard NT alumni abandon the vicissitudes of the international movie circuit and move back to Britain on a more permanent basis?