Audiences want 'Billy Elliot' director to take the helm at the National Theatre

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The Independent Culture

Nearly half of theatregoers want Stephen Daldry, the director of the award-winning film Billy Elliot, to take over from Trevor Nunn as head of the National Theatre.

A survey of more than 1,100 theatregoers has also found dissatisfaction with Mr Nunn's policy of reviving hit musicals such as My Fair Lady, even though the current production with Martine McCutcheon is both a critical success and almost sold out.

The survey on who should be the next artistic director of the National was conducted by the website Stephen Daldry, who ran the Royal Court Theatre in London before moving into films, was the clear favourite.

But there was also support for an actor to run the company. Simon Russell Beale, currently starring in Hamlet, was put forward by some respondents, even though he has never publicly expressed interest in the post. He would be the first actor to run the institution since Laurence Olivier set it up in the Sixties.

Some 43 per cent of those polled said that Daldry should replace Trevor Nunn when Nunn's contract ends in September 2002. The vote places Daldry – formerly artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre and the man behind the National's multi-awardwinning 1991 production of JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls, which ran for six years at the West End's Garrick Theatre – far ahead of other contenders.

They include Jonathan Kent of the Almeida (with 11 per cent of the theatregoers' vote), John Caird (10 per cent), Jude Kelly of the West Yorkshire Playhouse (9 per cent), Nicholas Hytner (7 per cent), Sam Mendes of the Donmar Warehouse (4 per cent).

One in 10 of those who voted were not happy with any of the above, frequently named in the media as among the frontrunners. Other potential successors suggested include Michael Grandage of the Sheffield Crucible, Jenny Topper of the Hampstead Theatre, Howard Davies, Mark Rylance of Shakespeare's Globe, Kenneth Branagh, actor, director and playwright Steven Berkoff and Max Stafford-Clark, the former Royal Court director, who has declared an interest in the post.

Terri Paddock, editorial director of said: "Theatregoers appreciate that, like management of the national side in football, the directorship of the National Theatre is one of the toughest jobs in the country."

Although 88 per cent of respondents had concerns about Nunn's stewardship of the NT, some leapt to his defence, calling him "the greatest theatrical director in the UK".