Brian McFarlane reviews 'Balancing Acts: Behind the scenes at the National Theatre' by Nicholas Hytner

Brian McFarlane reviews 'Balancing Acts: Behind the scenes at the National Theatre' by Nicholas Hytner

Balancing Acts: Behind the scenes at the National Theatre

by Nicholas Hytner

Jonathan Cape, $49.99 hb, 320 pp, 9781910702895

Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane has had three overlapping careers, as teacher, academic, and writer. He is the author or editor of over twenty books

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One of the most appropriate titles since Pride and Prejudice, Balancing Acts adroitly captures the drama and appeal of Nicholas Hytner’s account of his twelve years as director of London’s National Theatre. There have been several different takes on this often-controversial site of some of the world’s most riveting theatrical fare. Previous directors Peter Hall and Laurence Olivier have both had their say, as in Hall’s often contentious Diaries (1983) or in the numerous biographies of Olivier in which his own sometimes irascible views emerged beneath the ‘luvvie’ surface. Best of all to date was Australian Michael Blakemore’s even-handed chronicling in Stage Blood (2013).

So, what has Hytner to add to this list? In charting his years at the National from 2003 to 2015, he reflects on the challenges of running such an institution. This is not just a history, nor a memoir, though there are crucial elements of each. There is a wonderful sense of a highly productive period in the National’s history, and there is an equally strong sense of Hytner’s personal involvement in the making of that history.

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Published in November 2017, no. 396