Staging plays by new voices can do young writers a ‘great disservice’, says Sir Nicholas Hytner

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The former artistic director of the National Theatre has warned the continual drive to put works by “new voices” on the major commercial theatre stages could be doing young playwrights “a great disservice”.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, who now runs The Bridge theatre in London, said he was “not looking for new voices” despite a drive in the industry to promote the underrepresented.

“We would be doing an unproduced young playwright a great disservice by producing their play in a 900-seat theatre that’s looking for a long-ish run,” he said.

The arts sector is under pressure to diversify at all levels, from the faces seen on stage to the directors, producers, writers and crew.

In an interview with Sunday Times Culture magazine, Sir Nicholas said: “There are many more theatres dedicated to looking for those new voices and now doubly dedicated to finding voices that were perhaps underrepresented.”

Criticism of The Bridge

Asked about criticism that The Bridge was not doing enough, he said: “I think I am quite happy for what we have done to speak for itself. I haven’t counted, but I suspect that if you did, the result would not be too shaming to us.”

It is currently staging Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust 18 years after the National Theatre put on a production of the author’s His Dark Materials, with the modern cast “notably more diverse”, the magazine said.

“If you asked me, did we move fast enough over my 12 years at the National, then the answer is always going to be no, because you’re always responding to great societal changes,” said Sir Nicholas.

“In many respects, the theatre gets out in front. In some respects it doesn’t. Being fully representative is always going to be the ambition.

“But being fully representative today by definition means that you’re not tomorrow. You have to keep changing, you have to keep challenging yourself, to respond to what is going on.”

Optimistic about the future of theatre

The director also spoke optimistically about the future of theatre post-coronavirus lockdown, saying audiences are slowly returning.

“There is a lot of last-minute booking going on,” he said. “The hardcore audience is back, the audience that can’t live without going to the theatre. But that’s not the whole audience.

“You’re also appealing to people who like to go to the theatre three times a year.

“But that habit will return, not least because, in the end, it will be too depressing to stick with what we all discovered in lockdown, which is that you can have frictionless evenings at home with Deliveroo and Netflix.

“I don’t think that will be satisfying enough in the long-term for those who like to go out.”

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