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Hytner Hits the Target

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National Theatre boss Nicholas Hytner, sometimes a bit of a cold fish, yesterday revealed that he is finally getting in touch with his radical inner self.

"I love the shows that subvert the concrete elegance of this building," he told a Press conference held in the "cathedral" window of the Olivier Theatre,looking out over a bleak and blustery Thames-side walkway.

"I'm in constant dialogue with myself about the range of things the theatre should do. And I love the theatre when it's not being well-behaved."

Probably with James Corden in mind, who is leading Hytner's May revival of Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters -- re-titled One Man, Two Guvnors, and relocated by Richard Bean in Brighton of the 1960s -- he referred to an element "of roughing the place up."

Regular audience members at the Whatsonstage.com Awards concert, where Corden has performed an outrageous double-act with his former partner Sheridan Smith, will not argue with Hytner's view that he has become "a really accomplished comic actor, with a really vivid personality."

Corden's the tool with which Hytner proposes to "de-anaesthetise" the commedia dell'arte so it acquires a newly anarchic spirit that we might recognise as totally English.

The question you might want to follow that with is: yes, but will it be recognisable as totally Goldoni? And if not, does that matter?

He also said that he has seen a run-through of Danny Boyle's upcoming production of Frankenstein -- "and it's fab; I'm really excited"; sounds like the marketing department don't need any critics to help out with the display advertising on that one.

As the Society of London Theatre boasts of a seventh successive year of growth at the box office (but West End ticket prices have risen considerably over the past twelve months), Hytner was almost bashful about admitting that all three NT auditoria have played to hundred per cent capacity business for the past two months. And that the £10 Travelex ticket price will be increased to £12.

He was quietly pleased, too, that Jonathan Miller was returning to the National -- he was a star director of the Olivier regime but fell out badly with Peter Hall -- to stage nine performances in September of Bach's St Matthew Passion.
He said he'd bumped into Miller at Joan Plowright's eightieth birthday party and got the ball rolling. Presumably Miller didn't remind him of his grouch that he (Miller) was now too old "and not gay enough" to be employed at the major arts institutions.

Dominic Cooke is to make his NT debut with The Comedy of Errors in November; Mike Leigh and Conor McPherson will both have new, as yet un-titled, work, in September and October (Lesley Manville, so brilliant in Another Year, stars in the Leigh); there's a bugger of an Ibsen, Emperor and Galilean, directed by Jonathan Kent in June; and, for some reason, there's a new musical by Tori Amos, with a book by Samuel Adamson.

I suppose that all sounds slightly radical and suitably rough around the edginess.

Two of the late John Dexter's biggest successes will be revived: Bijan Sheibani re-heats Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen, which Dexter first staged at the Royal Court in 1961; and Katie Mitchell de-constructs (roughs up, perhaps?) Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed With Kindness, which Dexter presented with a genuinely shocking, scrubbed simplicity at the Old Vic (then the National) in 1971.

Another old favourite, Congreve's The Way of the World, opens in the Olivier next January, but the director's not fully signed up yet, so Hytner wouldn't be drawn on the deal. Nor is there any decision yet on what Shakespeare will be offered up for the Olympic cultural programme.

Let's just hope that Hytner holds on to his nerve, and his new found belief that "a bit of edge and mischief is always a good idea."




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