National chooses Nunn but the best

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Trevor Nunn yesterday put his global success on hold for five years to accept one of the most prestigious jobs in British arts- director of the Royal National Theatre, in London.

Nunn, the 56-year-old director of world-wide box-office hits such as Cats, Les Miserables and Sunset Boulevard, was selected over the younger contenders Sam Mendes, the 30-year old artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse, in London, and Stephen Daldry, 34, who runs the Royal Court theatre, also in London.

In 1968, aged 28, Nunn became the youngest ever artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he remained until 1986. His revivals, including Nicholas Nickleby and Porgy and Bess, received wide critical acclaim.

Nunn, who takes over the pounds 90,000 post from Richard Eyre in September 1997, said: "I'mjust breathless with anticipation. It is time to do something in a more focused and concentrated way and stop this globe- trotting. It's a thrilling challenge.". He was the first choice of a special selection committee, which included the playwright Tom Stoppard and the producer Michael Codron.

Stoppard said yesterday: "He's very, very likeable as well as being very tough. It's quite a rare combination of qualities which fits the job perfectly. He's the best possible outcome at the moment and I'm very relieved and glad he's agreed to do it."

Nunn, who has various successful productions around the world and is at present editing his film adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, is to work for the National Theatre exclusively for five years. He will have to negotiate government subsidy, help balance the books and direct the artistic programme at the company's three theatres - the Olivier, the Lyttelton and the Cottesloe.

Richard Eyre said: "I am absolutely confident that we have the man best qualified to run the National Theatre."