The Big List: Who will do National service after Hytner? Meet the contenders (29 and counting…)

You recently voted Nicholas Hytner the most successful artistic director of the National Theatre. Who can possibly fill those shoes when he steps down in 2015? We round up the favourites


Bodinetz has been artistic director of the Liverpool Everyman and
Playhouse for ten years, during which time the newly joined venues have
gone from strength to strength. She’s programmed a solid mix of classic
and contemporary work, with hits including Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories, a co-production with the Lyric Hammersmith, and Whatsonstage.com Award-winning comedy The Ladykillers.

an outside bet, but nevertheless there are few other artistic directors
in the land who can boast a successful decade at the same venue. She’s
also been an eloquent critic of the recent funding cuts and overseen extensive renovations of both venues in her care.


Credentials: Riding high after he masterminded last year’s triumphant Olympics Opening Ceremony, which recently won a Whatsonstage.com Award for Theatre Event of the Year, Boyle combines Hollywood standing thanks to films such as Slumdog Millionaire with unquestionable theatre pedigree having worked for years at the Royal Court early in his career. Returned to the stage in 2011 to direct Frankenstein at the NT Olivier, which earned him a Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Director. Likelihood: Slim, having as good as ruled himself out. He told the Daily Telegraph recently: “Frankenstein was fantastic because of the support they offered me, but I haven’t done much theatre work lately, and they don’t want to make a celebrity appointment. That’s the wrong approach, but I’d love to work there again, with whoever gets it.”


One of the few actors in genuine contention, Branagh enjoyed a stellar
rise to the top of the theatre tree in the 1980s and has stayed there
ever since. Is about to return to the stage playing Macbeth at the
Manchester International Festival, one of the few Shakespearean roles he
is yet to add to his CV.Likelihood: Not know, but hasn’t publicly ruled himself out of the running. Has previously said
Hytner is “an act impossible to follow”, but also admitted: “I have a
pathetic urge at some stage in my life to be able to pull out my wallet
and pull out a little card on which it would say Kenneth Branagh,
artistic director.” That opportunity could well be coming soon.


Currently runs Chichester Festival Theatre, where he’s been artistic
director since 2006. Notable productions during his time there include
Whatsonstage.com Award-winning stagings of Sweeney Todd, Singin’ in the Rain and Kiss Me, Kate. Previously he was at Birmingham Rep, so has plenty of pedigree when it comes to running large producing houses.Likelihood:
When asked by Whatsonstage.com whether he’d be applying, he replied
with a firm ‘no comment’. But he’s certainly qualified and would no
doubt relish the challenge of stepping up to an organisation as large as
the National. He’s also admired for his hands-on approach, having
previously worked as an assistant electrician. Told the Independent last year: “Isn’t everybody supposed to say ‘I don’t want it’? Then that’s probably what I should say.” One to watch.


Cooke, who recently stepped down as artistic director of the Royal
Court, seems an obvious choice considering his experience and standing
in the industry – prior to joining the Court (in 2006) he was an
associate director at the RSC. He made his directing debut at the
National in 2011 with The Comedy of Errors starring Lenny Henry.

Almost none. He’s reportedly shattered after his seven-year tenure
running the Court. He told Whatsonstage.com that the timing was all
wrong and that all he was thinking about for now was taking at least six
months off, largely to stay at home. Beyond that, his head seems to be
in a freelance space, as he told the Evening Standard
recently: “One of the things that’s very hard when you’re running a
building is directing and having enough time to prepare… It’s very
hard to immerse yourself when you’re thinking about the whole picture,
so that’s what I want to focus on.”


Credentials: A clear favourite among our readers when the job was up for grabs in 2001, Daldry would no doubt be a popular choice again this time round. The director of An Inspector Calls, Billy Elliot and most recently The Audience also has experience running a major theatre, having been artistic director of the Royal Court from 1992 to 1998.Likelihood: Slim, due to the continued success of his freelance career, but is yet to rule himself out. His fellow Royal Court director Jeremy Herrin told Whatsonstage.com: “I’ve worked under Stephen Daldry and Dominic Cooke and I know first hand that they’ve got what it would take: they wouldn’t hold back artistically, and it’d be a shame if the board made too conservative an appointment.”


Has done stirling work since joining the Globe as artistic director
(succeeding Mark Rylance) in 2005, and will inaugurate the candlelit
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse this winter. Prior to the
Globe he ran the Oxford Stage Company (now Headlong) and The Bush.
When asked by Whatsonstage.com whether he’d consider applying for the
National job, he replied: “I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to
comment… But it looks like a good race, with some good riders.” Indeed
it does, but it doesn’t look like Dromgoole will be among the jockeys.


Credentials: The director of two of the biggest hits of Hytner’s tenure at the National – War Horse (which she co-directed with Tom Morris, see below) and this year’s seven-time Olivier Award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (both now in the West End) – Elliott knows the building well and would be the latest of a string of women taking on artistic directorships in the capital.

Likelihood: Elliott fans will be disappointed to know she’s among those to definitively rule herself out, telling Whatsonstage.com at the Olivier Awards recently that the time-intensive job would be “particularly difficult for a mother”. But no doubt we’ll see her name attached to National productions of the future – any AD in their right mind would want to keep this hitmaker on side.


Credentials: Pretty much impeccable, considering his stellar ten years in charge of the Donmar (2002-12), which saw him pick up a slew of awards and stage productions in the West End and on Broadway. Prior to the Donmar he ran Sheffield Theatres, where he worked with Kenneth Branagh and Derek Jacobi, among others.
Likelihood: Grandage has ruled himself out on the grounds he wants
to pursue work with his newly formed Michael Grandage Company
(currently in residence at the Duke of York’s). He told Whatsonstage.com recently he was “enormously flattered” to be mentioned in conjunction with the job, but would not be applying as he’s excited about exploring “a non-building based series of opportunities”.


Credentials: Pretty strong, largely thanks to his stirling work as artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith (which he joined in 2008). Prior to this he worked with companies including the RSC, Donmar Warehouse, Royal Court and Oxford Stage Company, where he was an associate director.
Likelihood: When approached by Whatsonstage.com about whether he’d be applying, he replied with a “no comment”, adding “I look forward to see who they give it to”. As do we, and we reckon Holmes, who is currently overseeing the Lyric’s £16.5million capital development project, could be a good outside bet.


Certainly one of the ‘A’ list candidates, Mendes (pictured with regular
collaborator Kevin Spacey, another potential contender) has enjoyed a stellar Hollywood career
since his highly successful spell running the Donmar Warehouse in the
1990s. Most recently he helmed Bond film Skyfall, while his current stage project is the blockbuster new musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which premieres next month.
Hasn’t officially ruled himself out but sources indicate he would take
quite some persuading to put his freelance career on hold. And recent rumours
that he is back in negotiations to direct the next Bond film hint that
his focus is currently elsewhere. But he will be a big presence at the
National next year, directing his long-time sparring partner Simon
Russell Beale
in a hotly anticipated staging of King Lear.


Credentials: One of Hytner’s most successful associate directors, with credits including War Horse and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (both of which he co-directed), he’s recently cut his artistic director teeth at the Bristol Old Vic, where he’s been in post since 2009 alongside executive director Emma Stenning (pictured with Morris).

Likelihood: Hasn’t publicly stated a position, but seems unlikely to leave Bristol after just four years at the helm, especially with a redevelopment project still underway. However, he has very strong links with the National where he proved himself a brilliant collaborator and developer of new work. Probably won’t have his hat in the ring this time round, but definitely one to watch for the future.


Credentials: No worries on the directing front, with credits including Death and the King’s Horseman, London Road (both NT) and the multi award-wining Festen. He’s  about to continue his National association by directing James Baldwin’s rarely-seen play The Amen Corner in the Olivier. Where he falls down is his lack of experience running a building or company.
Likelihood: When Whatsonstage.com caught up with him recently, Norris said he would only consider the job if he didn’t feel the right candidate had come forward. And with so many of the favourites having ruled themselves out, it will be interesting to see if he’s good to his word.


Credentials: One of the youngest candidates on our list, Sharrock has enjoyed a stellar rise through the directing ranks. While freelance credits range from The Bodyguard to her acclaimed revival of Rattigan’s After the Dance (in the NT Lyttelton), her artistic director experience includes stints at Southwark Playhouse and the Gate.
Likelihood: Considered an outsider, but nevertheless shouldn’t be underestimated. She hasn’t ruled herself out and has previously stated her interested in the job. In a 2008 interview with the Evening Standard, the mother-of-two said in answer to the question of whether she’d be interested: “Depends how many children I have, doesn’t it, really? But, yeah, I think I’d put a crèche in, if I did.”

What some other possible contenders told Whatsonstage.com:

“If someone offered me artistic director of the National Theatre I’d
laugh and check their spelling. Before my hat was allowed in the ring
they’d have to clear away a lot of other much nicer hats, with bigger

For the better-qualified candidates, I think it might be like offering a
policeman a gun: if he says yes, you don’t give him one. Following Nick
Hytner’s dazzling tenure is always going to be hard; most of the people
I think would be good are too humble to put themselves forward, which
qualifies them eminently.

Dominic Cooke is an excellent idea, but he probably wants a rest. It’s
high time a woman got it, but the front-runner Marianne Elliot has
already ruled herself out. My money would be on Stephen Daldry. In
fact, has anyone opened a book?”

“I won’t be applying for the job. Nick is the greatest arts leader in the country. He has created something incredibly special. There is an infectious energy at the National that is addictive. Every single person in the building is passionate about making the work on their stages the very best it can be. That energy and commitment comes from the top.

Not only is he an insightful, inspiring director, but he runs the place with amazing imagination, integrity and conviction. How do you follow that? Perhaps he should stay on for another ten years?!”

“I’d of course accept in the unlikely event if it was offered. My vision would be to create a far more international theatre and encourage the world’s best directors whom we seldom see here.

I’d like to return the theatre back to the actors and develop a strong team as Olivier did at the first National at the Old Vic which in my opinion has never been surpassed. I’d also encourage our great older players to both teach and direct and pass on their immense skills to young actors. At the moment these great veterans are sadly ignored.

I’d use the Cottesloe to house the nation’s best theatre for which it was intended, and create an advisory panel made up from: Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole, Alec McCowen, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh and Christopher Plummer.

And remove that statue of Olivier that stands abjectly in front of the building – commission a new one that befits the status of the man!

In terms of who I’d like to see in the post, Sir Ian McKellen, Mark Rylance, Sir Ben Kingsley would be suitable candidates, and most instructive to actors. They may be reluctant to take on the role, but let us not forget, the office maketh the man.”

“I have no ambitions to run the NT. I’d be much happier directing for whoever takes it over. The National’s a relevant and inspiring place to work, full of talented and committed people, I’ve been there off and on since Richard Eyre‘s time and always been happy there. Recently, I’ve been privileged to be part of Nick Hytner’s regime (abetted by Nick Starr and Kate Horton): I think it’s been a force for good in our culture, and with Kate staying on I would hope that that would continue. 

There are lots of great people who would be capable of doing it – lots of whom have already apparently ruled themselves out – but there’s a strong platform for someone to carry on being bold and daring and ambitious, and to keep publicly making the case for the arts in general and theatre in particular. I’ve worked under Stephen Daldry and Dominic Cooke and I know first hand that they’ve got what it would take: they wouldn’t hold back artistically, and it’d be a shame if the board made too conservative an appointment.”

And here some other names on our long/wish list…

Lucy Bailey
Simon Callow
Carrie Cracknell
Daniel Evans
Simon Godwin
Jonathan Kent
Kwame Kwei-Armah
Simon Russell Beale
Kevin Spacey
John Tiffany
Matthew Warchus

Whoever the job goes to, Whatsonstage.com wishes them all the very best! And don’t forget, applications close on Friday…

Who have we missed? Tell us in the comments below. And get ready to have your say in our big poll next week!