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I’m leaving the National, says Sir Nicholas Hytner the hit-maker

Executive director Nick Starr will also leave to 'make room for next generation'

Sir Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, the pair credited with taking the National Theatre to “undreamt levels” of success, are to step down within two years.

Sir Nicholas, who took over from Sir Trevor Nunn in 2003, said it had been “a joy and privilege to lead” the company, calling it the “most fulfilling job in the English-speaking theatre”.

The National’s director had made no secret of his plans to step down in the next few years and yesterday revealed that his departure date would be the end of March 2015.

The 56-year-old has overseen a string of hits that he also directed including The History Boys and One Man, Two Guvnors, as well overseeing new commercial opportunities and pushing ahead with a programme to overhaul the site. He believes that in two years “it will be time to give someone else a turn”.

The board will advertise for a new director next week, and expect to name Sir Nicholas’s successor in the autumn. The succession committee will include British Museum director Neil MacGregor and novelist Kate Mosse.

Alistair Smith, deputy editor of The Stage, said: “His mark on the National and more broadly on UK theatre has been huge.”

The organisation also announced the departure of the National’s executive director Nick Starr, who has engineered much of the commercial success since he joined in 2002. Mr Smith added that Mr Starr had influenced the upturn in the National’s fortunes “every bit as much Hytner”.

Marianne Elliott, an associate director at the National Theatre who has directed a number of productions including Port and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, said: “They are incredibly dynamic and fast moving. They have a large vision for the National and have always been excited and passionate.” She added: “It will be very, very hard for someone to take over and fill these shoes.”

Mr Starr, who plans to leave next year, said it would be “a wrench” to leave “but I want to make room for the next generation, and it’s time for me to plough new furrows.” There is no specific date yet, as it depends on progress in the £70m NT Future project, which is redeveloping the organisation’s South Bank site.

Looking back on the past decade he said the National “has become more open and accessible as an institution”.

The pair will work together after leaving the National, Mr Starr said, although it was too early to talk about the plans. “It has been the happiest working relationship and we don’t want it to end,” he said. Sir Nicholas has previously told The Independent he believes he has at least two more big jobs in him.

The pair was hailed by the National’s chairman John Makinson, who said: “Nick Hytner and Nick Starr have led the National Theatre to undreamt levels of creative and commercial success over the past decade.”

The National’s move to introduce a season of £10 – now £12 – tickets backed by Travelex in 2003 proved revolutionary not just for the organisation, but prompted a wave of imitators throughout London opening theatre.

Sir Nicholas has called the sponsorship deal the most influential thing he had done. A decade on the National has sold over 1.3 million cut-price tickets, bringing in a new audience and the ability to bring in riskier plays into the institution’s Olivier Theatre.

The audience was also widened with the introduction NT Live, the screenings of productions to cinemas around the country and abroad, which have proved wildly popular.

Under Sir Nicholas’s reign, the National has brought in more money by moving its work into the West End and Broadway to huge commercial success with projects such as War Horse, The History Boys and One Man, Two Guvnors.

He has also nurtured directing and writing talent. “He is embracive of other people’s work and taste, and gives you a lot of space to breathe. He’s so positive, it’s quite infections,” Ms Elliott said. 

Sir Nicholas has consistently been a strong advocate for the arts. He has regularly called on Government support for the sector and lobbied against cuts, proving a regular thorn in the side of Culture Secretary Maria Miller.