LEADING ARTICLE : The National's show of secrecy

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The Independent Online
The great and the good are making themselves comfy in front of the casting couch. The board members of the National Theatre are scratching their brows as they ponder on the choice of the right man or woman to fill the most important role in British theatre. The director of the National Theatre, Richard Eyre, plans to leave sometime next year or the year after. His successor will be appointed by the middle of this year. Despite the importance of the position, the casting process and even the names of the potential players are shrouded in secrecy. If it is our National Theatre, why should we be so in the dark about who might run it?

Rumours are abounding among the chattering classes. Yesterday, the National Theatre was swift to dismiss as "pure speculation" the suggestion that Trevor Nunn might top its short list. But the theatre is sworn to secrecy, so it won't rule him out. Mr Nunn could indeed be in the running; the first we are likely to know about it is the announcement of the decision in the summer.

It seems unlikely, however, that Mr Nunn should want the job. Why would he want to give up touring the theatres of the world directing grandiose performances from Sunset Boulevard to lavish operas to stay holed up in concrete on the South Bank for several years? And if he doesn't desperately want to give his entire life to the National Theatre, then he should not be in the running for the job.

The fact is that being director of the National Theatre is a full-time job. We point this out simply because previous incumbents have always seemed to understand this basic fact. Running three theatres, a touring programme, an education department and a studio for developing new talent requires energy and dedication. Under the stewardship of Richard Eyre, the National has become a great success. The string of recent Olivier awards are just the latest in a long line of achievements. Countless productions transfer out of the National to the West End, to Broadway and to television. Eyre has managed to create an attractive mix of old and new writing, earnest plays and popular musicals, private sponsorship and public finance.

Mr Nunn would be the wrong kind of choice for the National. He represents the old cliquey world of theatre. We need someone who is hungry and wants to make their reputation through their work at the National.

Yet in the deliberations over who should get this prized post, there is no open debate encouraged by the board as to what we want from a National Theatre and so what we should look for from a director. The appointment is shrouded with the secrecy that accompanies the appointment of the head of a branch of the secret service. The explanation? Could it be that the chairman of the appointments committee is, Sir Michael Palliser, the former head of the Diplomatic Service and a long time habitue of the world Sir Richard Scott describes so eloquently?