The new National Theatre AD (i.e. theatre’s David Moyes)
This year, the biggest shoes in the business need filling. After a long reign marked by success after success, a Knight of the realm steps down – leaving someone with the unenviable task of filling his shoes. Questions will be asked about their suitability, and people will watch closely as the press stand by, pens at the ready to tell the world that things ain’t as good as they used to be.
Whoever gets the Artistic Director job at the National Theatre will effectively be the David Moyes of the theatre world.
Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Nick Hytner have helped develop global brands and export some of the UKs biggest hits during their tenures; Ferguson delivered success on the pitch to establish Manchester United as a global brand and helped launch the career of one David Beckham, whereas Hytner (alongside Nick Starr) delivered shows like The History Boys, War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors across the globe as the National Theatre flexed their commercial muscle. The impact of both men has seemingly had positive effects throughout the sectors they work in, as the English Premier League has grown into arguably the most exciting and commercially prosperous league in the world, whilst the National Theatre’s support of new work such as that presented in The Shed and increasing commercial output are allowing plays to gain wider audiences and counteract the fears that the current economic climate would see largely ‘safe’ work be programmed by venues to mitigate risk.
Whoever takes over at the National Theatre needs to be ready to be scrutinised, for their previous work to be critiqued to measure their suitability. Although less vocal or tribal than football fans, there will still be plenty of theatre lovers who will seriously question why Person A got the job over Person B, and who will be waiting for an opportunity to say “I told you so” should any show flop. Expectations will be sky-high, and perhaps unrealistic; as with David Moyes, continuing to deliver success at the level of the previous boss will be a minimum expectation for many, with any changes to approach being questioned and the spectre of Sir Nick no doubt looming large in the early stages. Of course, it’s wholly unrealistic to place such expectations on someone so soon after they undertake a role the scale of which they most likely have never faced before – but no-one said life, theatre or football was fair.
Of course, with time things will no doubt begin to die down as people gradually accept the change and look ahead, rather than backwards. The new leader will begin to establish themselves in their own right, and will be judged on their own merits – as they begin to rack up successes, they will be seen to be down to them rather than due to the residue of Nick Hytner’s influence. Just as Hytner was not judged harshly against the likes of Nunn, Eyre and Olivier, the new person will get the chance to be their own type of Artistic Director.
Hytner gets his own Fergie time, as he sees out his role until 2015. At that point, the new face will take over what is probably going to be the most difficult job in the business – at that point, the pressure will be on. But, unlike in football, it’s highly doubtful we’ll see fans protesting on the Southbank with banners and burning effigies to protest the failures of the new leadership. Hopefully.
Theatre, eh? Bloody hell!