Rufus Norris revealed as National Theatre boss

Rufus Norris: "We must always be looking out from London"

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Rufus Norris is to take over from Sir Nicholas Hytner as director of the National Theatre.

The role is widely regarded as the biggest job in British theatre, and Norris called it "a great honour".

"I am thrilled at the challenge of leading this exceptional organisation, where it has been a privilege to work under the inspirational leadership of Nick Hytner," he said.

Sir Nicholas announced last April he would step down in March 2015.

Norris first came to prominence in 2001 with his production of Afore Night Come at the Young Vic, for which he won the Evening Standard award for most promising newcomer.

Start Quote

To compare me as an actor with Laurence Olivier is one of the funniest things I've heard in a long time.”

End Quote Rufus Norris

Having initially trained at Rada as an actor, the 48-year-old has since directed theatre in the West End and on Broadway, as well as having experience with opera and film.

In 2012 his film Broken premiered at the Cannes Film Festival before winning best British independent film at the British Independent Film Awards.

He recently directed The Amen Corner at the National and also created Dr Dee: An English Opera with Blur frontman Damon Albarn for the Manchester International Festival in 2011.

Earlier this year he also launched the National's temporary Shed venue on London's Southbank with Table, by his playwright wife Tanya Ronder.

"The National is an extraordinary place full of extraordinary people and I look forward with relish to the task ahead," Norris said.

"That being to fill our theatres with the most exciting, accessible and ground-breaking work our unique and broad community of artists has to offer."

Sir Nicholas will have spent 12 years as the National Theatre's director when he hands over to Norris in 2015.

Damon Albarn and Rufus Norris Last year Norris collaborated with Damon Albarn on Dr Dee: An English Opera

He has overseen worldwide hits such as The History Boys, War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors, as well as NT Live which screens theatre productions in cinemas.

He said his successor would be "welcomed with great excitement both within the National and in the theatre at large".

He added: "His work as a director is always searching, deeply considered and adventurous and I have no doubt he will bring these qualities to the running of the National."

Sir Nicholas said Norris received a standing ovation from the National Theatre company when he had introduced him earlier, accompanied by a huge roar "even louder than when old Alfie falls down the stairs in One Man, Two Guvnors".

'100% committed'

Norris said his new role was "a great privilege and I will attack that with gusto", adding he would like to "cast the net wider" in terms of who would perform at the theatre.

Analysis

Theo Bosanquet - editor, WhatsOnStage

"He fits the bill. There are certain echoes between him and Hytner which no doubt appealed to the board.

"The main thing is that neither of them, upon being appointed, had run buildings before. They both enjoyed stellar careers as freelance directors which, firstly, indicates the board wants to have an artist at the head rather than a career artistic director and, secondly, they want someone with new ideas.

"He's had a fascinating career. Festen at the Almeida (2004) was a stellar production and proved that work fostered in a subsidised theatre could transfer to the commercial West End.

"The key with him is that he can direct at the Olivier (The Amen Corner, London Road, Death and the King's Horseman) and on a smaller scale at The Shed (Table).

"He's proved he has the ability to direct across the board."

"The theatre's in a different place from when Nick [Hytner] took over - a position of strength."

Norris revealed he was directing a movie version of London Road in 2014, but said he would be "100% committed to this building" from the moment Sir Nicholas leaves.

"I'm not going to kid myself. I will be chained to this place," he added.

Norris, who has been an associate director at the National Theatre since 2011, will take up his new position from April 2015.

He is the first former actor as well as non-Oxbridge graduate to be appointed since Sir Laurence Olivier, who was the National's first artistic director in 1963.

"There have been many times in my life when I've regretted that I played in bands and was a painter decorator for four years when I could have been at university, but I seem to be here - it worked out," Norris said.

"The simple fact is, lots of people who go to Oxford and Cambridge are very, very clever. That doesn't mean they're the only clever people."

The National Theatre's chairman John Makinson said: "The Board looked for an individual with a creative reputation that would command the respect and support of British theatre, and with the generosity of spirit that has characterised Nick Hytner's period as director.

"Rufus Norris has both those qualities in abundance. He is an exciting choice, someone who will build on the National Theatre's present reputation as one of the most admired and innovative performing arts organisations in the world.

"We are fortunate that he has chosen to join us."

The National Theatre's first director from 1963-73 was Sir Laurence Olivier, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time.

NATIONAL THEATRE ARTISTIC DIRECTORS

  • Lord Olivier (1963-1973)
  • Sir Peter Hall (1973-1988)
  • Sir Richard Eyre (1988-1997)
  • Sir Trevor Nunn (1997-2003)
  • Sir Nicholas Hytner (2003-2015)

When asked by the BBC's Arts Editor Will Gompertz whether he thought his acting past would also bring a different flavour to the institution, Norris laughed: "It's an interesting question and one I had not anticipated at all, because to compare me as an actor with Laurence Olivier is one of the funniest things I've heard in a long time."

He continued: "I'm sure that what I bring to it will be nothing like the amount of skill and expertise that his acting career allowed him to bring to the table.

"But I think, yeah, training as an actor and having that experience for a while gives you an insight into a certain aspect of the process which is very, very useful."

Sir Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Daldry, Danny Boyle and ex-Donmar Warehouse bosses Michael Grandage and Sam Mendes had all been in the frame for the job, although Mendes had ruled himself out of the race.

Nick Starr, the theatre's executive director since 2002, also announced he would be leaving the NT during 2014, leading to a phased handover of the top jobs.

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