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Michael Coveney: Norris nears the National, bad news for Dacre in the Mail

Rumours regarding the next artistic director of the National Theatre have reached fever pitch

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Waiting in the wings? Rufus Norris
© Dan Wooller

The New York Post suggested on Wednesday that an announcement on the succession to Nicholas Hytner at the National would be made by the end of this week. Well, that's not happening. WhatsOnStage understands there will be an early heads-up on the formal press conference, some time in the next two weeks.

Are we still holding our breath? Runners and riders are still jostling in the paddock. Someone said this week that Stephen Daldry hadn't turned up for his interview; someone else, that Rufus Norris was seen wearing a suit on the South Bank.

Neither of those snippets is true, probably, but a senior figure in the British theatre did say to me at the Almeida last night - where Richard Eyre's new production of Ibsen's Ghosts zipped through in 90 minutes flat - that the NY Post's columnist Michael Riedel did appear to be very well informed.

So some folk appear to know what's going on, and Riedel, tipping Norris - with, I have to say, a most unlikely number two in Dominic Cooke - attributed his info to "some highly placed sources in artistic and political circles in London." His other chief nom was David Lan of the Young Vic - a contender because of "his friendship with Stephen Daldry," says Riedel - with a pledge from Daldry to join Lan as an associate. That sounds the wrong way round to me.

And then Riedel mentions two more candidates: Rupert Goold, who is almost certainly not in the frame, as he's committed himself to the Almeida job with a clear statement that he prefers the way of working the Almeida offers him - total control, flexibility, minimal admin hassle - and Jonathan Church, who would leap at the invitation but who might be considered not quite the top notch director Norris and Daldry undoubtedly are; with Lan potentially the most brilliant programmer.

Just look at what Lan is serving up next year at the Young Vic: a wonderfully international mix of productions by venerable Peter Brook and brilliant Ivan van Hove (the latter assigned, most imaginatively, to Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge), Juliet Stevenson as Beckett's Winnie in Happy Days and Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois in Streetcar directed by Benedict Andrews.

The other name with a bit of noise around it is Daniel Evans, the actor/director who has made such a good fist of running Sheffield Theatres. He's far too inexperienced and, I would have thought, lightweight, to be considered a serious solo contender, but he might well have chummed up with Norris, though he might be more suited to Lan.

Richard Eyre has already told WhatsOnStage that Hytner will be a very hard act to follow. So the board might be thinking in terms of something completely different, and in terms of thinking across three auditoria and casting a very wide net in uncharted and exciting new waters, Lan would be a superb choice. The fact that he doesn't direct himself very much these days might be a blessing in disguise, too. He could concentrate on "producing" and cultivating his contacts and enthusiasms.

And as a trained anthropologist of South African extraction, he would bring a very different sort of cultural and aesthetic sensibility to bear on the building which, since Peter Hall succeeded Laurence Olivier, has been the province of Oxbridge educated directors - Richard Eyre, Trevor Nunn, Hytner - with a broadly shared set of criteria in choosing new plays and classics.

There are two big conversational topics around town at the moment: the NT job and the attack on Ed Miliband's dad, Ralph Miliband, the Marxist patriotic Jew who has been accused by the Daily Mail of tarring by association his son's probity and suitability as the next Prime Minister.

Aside from noting the unsavoury undertow of anti-Semitism here, I just hope that James Dacre's career as a talented and liberal-minded theatre director, newly installed as artistic director at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, isn't similarly jeopardised by a concerted and vengeful reminder from the theatre community of his own dad, Paul Dacre's political proclivities as editor and chief executive of the Mail.

If such a thing happened, James' defence would be that his dad's journalism and public life are nothing to do with him (which they aren't, up to a point; he did go to Eton, like the new dressed-down drama critic on The Times, Sir Dominic Maxwell); and that his lovely mum is, or at least was, when I knew her, a distinguished and highly regarded drama teacher working with tomorrow's left-wing, subversive theatre professionals.