New rumours denied over theatre's top job

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The National Theatre yesterday dismissed as "pure speculation" reports that Trevor Nunn, the director of Cats and former Royal Shakespeare Company creative director, has been short-listed for British theatre's most prestigious position.

Mr Nunn, 56, recently told The Independent that he had no intention of entering the running for the pounds 80,000 a year post as director of the National Theatre. However, rumours that the millionaire director's name has been put forward to the National's elite selection panel have grown since the weekend.

The favourite to succeed current director Richard Eyre is still widely held to be Sam Mendes, who on Sunday won two Olivier awards for best director, for The Glass Menagerie and Company, followed by Stephen Daldry, the innovative Royal Court director.

However, Mr Mendes is said to be reluctant to exchange the artistic freedom of running the 252-seat Donmar Warehouse for the restrictive bureacracy of planning a repertoire for the National Theatre's three more prestigious auditoriums, which include the Lyttleton and the 1,000-seat Olivier. Mr Nunn has implied that he holds similar reservations, but insiders believe the status of the post may attract the older director.

The National Theatre said after yesterday's new round of theatrical whispering that the selection panel were sworn to secrecy and that, although applications closed last month, "any news about a so-called shortlist is guesswork." A spokesman said: "There have been rumours about Trevor Nunn and the director's post for some time. We cannot confirm that he has applied for the position and all proceedings of the selection committee are confidential." Sir Ian McKellen and Adrian Noble, who were also initially tipped as front-runners for the position, had made it known that they were not interested, the National Theatre said. Applicants had either responded to newspaper adverts or been proposed by a member of the National's board.