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Nicholas Hytner: 'I'm still coming down after NT 50th gala'

WhatsOnStage caught up with the National's artistic director at the launch of LAMDA's Act Now! fundraising campaign, a cause close to his heart

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Nicholas Hytner and Rory Kinnear at the launch of LAMDA's Act Now! campaign
© Dan Wooller

Nicholas Hytner has described Saturday's 50th anniversary gala at the National Theatre as the "most extraordinary three days" of his career.

He was speaking to WhatsOnStage at yesterday's launch of LAMDA's Act Now! fundraising campaign, which he described as "a really important cause".

"I've raised upwards of £100million for the National Theatre," Hytner said, "and not one of those million do I feel as strongly about as I feel about this campaign.

"LAMDA is one of a tiny number of very great drama schools, and it's the only one of that number that doesn't have state-of-the-art facilities, or even its own theatre. It's vitally important that it does. This is a fantastic opportunity for this drama school to get the facilities it deserves."

Hytner has worked with a number of LAMDA graduates through the years, including Rory Kinnear, who also spoke at last night's event.

"I personally owe LAMDA a lot for its actors that I've worked with," he added. "For example, I realised about a week into rehearsals of His Dark Materials that all four of the principals - Patricia Hodge, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Dominic Cooper and Sam Barnett - were LAMDA graduates. That says something."

'Completely committed'

Regarding Saturday's gala, which he directed and featured stars including Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith and Alan Bennett, he said:

Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon in No Man's Land, part of the NT's 50th gala

"I'm still coming down. They were the three most extraordinary days that I've ever spent in a theatre. The whole company was completely committed to and possessed by the evening, the theatre, and each other.

"There wasn't a person here, at the National, who wasn't as excited about it as I was. We started planning it nine months ago, so nothing was left to chance. And when a company of that calibre decides to leave nothing to chance, nothing goes wrong."

Regarding comments that only one female writer, London Road's Alecky Blythe, was featured during the two-hour show, he said: "It's a completely fair point, and don't imagine it hadn't occurred to us. It's not something we're particularly proud of."

But he highlighted the number of women playwrights currently under commission by the venue. "This year, half the new work is by women, and next year's similar. In the last five or six years there have been four new plays by women on the Olivier stage. So it's changing. But the job was not to misrepresent, even to our advantage, the past 50 years at the National. I think you'll find our list of plays was similar to many other people's."

Regarding his forthcoming retirement as artistic director of the National, which he has run since 2003, Hytner said he "does not intend to be idle" following his departure in March 2015. Asked whether his future focus will be on film or stage work, he said he plans to "stay in theatre".

See Also: Questioning value of drama training is 'mad', says LAMDA head