the directors 3. Trevor Nunn

a weekly guide to British theatre's big players
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Famous for: Making popular hit musicals from serious, highbrow authors: TS Eliot, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens.

Early career: Prolific at Cambridge. Nunn became the RSC's youngest artistic director in 1968, aged 28. He was chief executive and joint artistic director from 1978-86, and has been Director Emeritus since then.

The first hit: His production (with John Caird) of David Edgar's adaptation of Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby was a popular and critical hit in 1980. Spurred on, in 1981 he suggested a musical based on TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The response was tittering disbelief. Now, 14 years later, Cats is London's longest ever running musical, and has taken pounds 1bn worldwide.

The follow-ups: In 1985 he turned Victor Hugo's epic novel Les Miserables into a musical with John Caird for the RSC. The critics complained that the Boublil/Schonberg musical "trivialised" a masterpiece, but nearly a decade later it is still packing them in.

Other hit musicals (freelance this time): Starlight Express (1983 and still running), Chess (1985), Aspects of Love (1989) and Sunset Boulevard (1993). All have earned a tidy sum for their director.

Other notable successes: Porgy and Bess for Glyndebourne in 1986 with Willard White; he cast White as Othello in 1989 with Ian McKellen as a scene-stealing Iago. Also in the cast were Nunn's former wife, Janet Suzman, and his future wife, Imogen Stubbs.

Special interest: The Swan Theatre in Stratford, for plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries, was his idea. It opened in 1986 with his production of Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West.

Verdict: His passion for popular, accessible work has made him rich, but the critical establishment's dismissal of it as trivial has always hurt.

Comments