Centre stage: The challenges for Rufus Norris, the National’s new head

 

Many pages of newsprint and hundreds of blog inches have been devoted this week to declaring how much of a “daring choice” Rufus Norris is to succeed Nicholas Hytner as the National Theatre’s artistic director.

I would beg to veer off at an angle here: if one were feeling curmudgeonly it would be easier to call him, with his lack of leadership experience and self-professed incomplete knowledge of the dramatic canon, a risk. Yet, interest-sustaining media diversions about Sam Mendes and Kenneth Branagh aside, he is the candidate who was always destined for the top job.

Already part of Hytner’s highly successful group of associates, Norris was the only one who was a likely contender, with the even more plausible Marianne Elliott having ruled herself out before the race started. It has been intriguing, therefore, to watch the subtle ways in which Norris’s candidature has been boosted from within, with the National’s programming this year very much utilised to showcase his ample talents. It can’t have hindered his case, for example, that a production of his (and of his own wife’s play, no less) opened the National’s fashionable new temporary venue, the Shed, just two days after Hytner made the announcement about stepping down. Hot on the heels of this came his hefty – and news-making – revival of James Baldwin’s all-black The Amen Corner in the dauntingly large Olivier auditorium. Intimate, epic: Norris was being given a golden series of chances to remind everyone, at just the right time, that he could handle it all with panache.

The trouble is that it is mighty tough to move from being inside an establishment to shaking it up. This, however, is exactly what Norris will have to do, because the very worst strategy he could deploy would be to try and create Hytner Version 2.0. Hytner has overseen an unprecedented golden age in the National’s history but Norris, if he is to have any chance of success, will need to forge his own clear path away from that of his strong-willed mentor. This is perforce going to necessitate difficult decisions, not least in removing from office some of the people he has called colleagues on the South Bank. Every new regime requires fresh faces and Norris must be courageous in the choice of his own team of associates.

If rumour is to be believed, he beat three current artistic directors to the job: Jonathan Church (Chichester), Daniel Evans (Sheffield) and David Lan (Young Vic). That’s a lot of experience the National’s Succession Committee chose to overlook in favour of someone who has never run a venue, balanced a budget or argued with a board, much less a government increasingly hostile to the idea of public subsidy. In his press conference this week Norris made much of his “collegiate” virtues and his desire to be surrounded by talented peers. He could do worse than reflect on what the men – and, once again, it was only men who were in real contention – who came so close might offer him.

In recent years, and largely thanks to the global success of War Horse, the National’s commercial operations, and thus its revenue streams, have expanded enormously. A revamped “leadership structure”, including an executive director, is to be announced in months to come to take into account this increased workload; a clever choice for involvement here would be Church, who is a canny producer as well as an accomplished director.

Wise eyes will be needed to work alongside Rufus Norris, the shoo-in risk.

Arts and Entertainment
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn