FINE ARTS

Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at London's National Theatre

Knopf. Nov. 2017. 352p. index. ISBN 9780451493408. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780451493415. THEATER
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OrangeReviewStarLondon's Royal National Theatre, comprised of the venue triumvirate of the Olivier, Lyttelton, and Dorfman (formerly Cottesloe) Theatres, boasts a lineage of theatrical royalty. Sir Lawrence Olivier and Sir Peter Hall served as artistic directors of the National; Hytner's 12-year tenure saw unprecedented growth in audience development and artistic expression, success that has distinguished the National since 1963. This exquisitely written memoir of Hytner's time running the National (2003–15), when he produced more than 100 new plays, is a revelatory exegesis of finding balance at all levels of artistic, technical, philosophical, and commercial production. The pages sparkle with luminaries with whom the author has worked, including Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Bennet, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter. The elements Hytner so adroitly strived for in his stewardship of the National is manifested throughout this memoir—the importance of new play development and classical, especially Shakespearean, theater; weighing working in film vs. theater; the relationship of producer with director, producer with playwright, producer as director with actor; and the precarious calibration of artistic and commercial achievement.
VERDICT An unqualified rave for this title. The theater crowd is the obvious audience for this book, but the intelligence, wit, and humor throughout expands the scope of readership to anyone interested in the arts. Well done, Sir Nicholas. [See Prepub Alert, 5/15/17.]

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