Nunn Answers Critics Ahead of National DepartureDate: 24 March 2003
Trevor Nunn - who steps down as National Theatre artistic director at the end of this month - has issued a few departing swipes at his detractors. During his five-and-a-half-year reign, Nunn has faced criticism over his management of the South Bank complex, with accusations of "dumbing down" in favour of populist musicals proving the most nettlesome.
At an And Finally public platform address held at the NT Olivier last Friday evening and in an article for yesterday's Sunday Times, Nunn rebuked these charges in no uncertain terms. Nunn writes in the newspaper: "As a working class boy, I have felt it my responsibility to defy a coterie of influential commentators, who I know disagree with me, by serving as many audiences as possible, popular and esoteric."
Enumerating the productions in his "widest diversity of repertoire", Nunn counts 24 classic and 15 contemporary revivals, seven Shakespeares, 60 new plays and six musicals. Of the last two, he says, "some commentators would have their readers believe these figures are the other way around."
Nunn does not disguise the fact that such media misinformation has rankled him. "I have read critical taunts about what I have not done during my time, but very little coverage of what has happened," he says. Looking back on his tenure, Nunn feels proud of increasing the diversity of the National audiences, maintaining the quality of the productions and opening up new spaces and, he told the audience on Friday night, "the thing I'm proudest of all about is that I leave the National Theatre in the black - that's pretty much unique amongst funded arts organisations in this country at the moment."
He concludes the Sunday Times piece by saying: "There can be no justification for a highly subsidised National Theatre unless it is clearly and, by common consent, the flagship theatre organisation of this country. That is what I inherited, and that unassailable status is what I believe I am passing on." Audiences seem largely to agree with him - not least, those attending last week's Platform, who rewarded him with a standing ovation (See Today's Goss for more).
In office since September 1997, Nunn is succeeded as NT artistic director by Nicholas Hytner takes over after a six-month transition period (See News, 23 Jan 2003). Despite occasionally deafening press criticism, Nunn has presided over perhaps the most critically and commercially successful period of the National's five-decade history, having won more than 112 major awards, including 42 Oliviers.
- by Terri Paddock