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26 November 2017 @ 12:16 pm
Balancing Acts (so far)  
I wound up doing a bit of early Christmas shopping this weekend, but as I did that shopping in a bookstore, I didn’t escape without also buying something for myself: Balancing Acts, Nicholas Hytner’s new memoir about being artistic director of the National Theatre in London (which came out in the UK earlier in the year, but has just come out here). For someone who has only actually set foot inside the National Theatre once,* and never seen a play within its walls, I am quite fond of the place – largely because of the NT Live cinema screenings, of course, which have allowed me to see more productions from the National Theatre than any other theater except the Globe; but also because it gave me my History Boys: the play premiered there, of course, and several of the original cast had worked there before The History Boys.

I’m only about 70 pages in so far, but it’s been entertaining. It’s already cleared up one odd misunderstanding I’ve been carrying around in my head for years: shortly after the film Shakespeare in Love came out, I happened to read that Daniel Brocklebank (who plays Sam, the boy actress whose voice breaks just as he’s supposed to play Juliet) was in a play where he also played a boy actress – which tickled me, of course, but as time went by, I must have accidentally conflated this play with Compleat Female Stage Beauty, and was subsequently confused when I couldn’t find any reference to him being in the play. But it turns out that the play Daniel Brocklebank was in was actually Cressida by Nicholas Wright, which Hytner directed at the Almeida.

And then there’s this paragraph about the National Theatre production of The Golden Compass (which Sam Barnett, Dominic Cooper, and Russell Tovey were all in - as well as Anna Maxwell Martin; it's basically "my favorite actors bingo"), the last sentence of which made me burst out laughing:

Meanwhile, every time there was a break, the young actor playing Brother Jasper came quietly to the front of the stage to run through his long, sinister address to the Magisterium. He was straight out of RADA, and there was nothing I hadn’t thrown at him: he was a stolen child, a gyptian, an armoured bear, a daemon goose, a witch in a long black wig and silk skirt. Brother Jasper was his big moment, and I’d hardly had time to notice how good he was. “This kid is mesmerising,” I whispered to Aletta, who already knew. Not long afterwards he told me that he’d been asked by Trevor Nunn to play Hamlet at the Old Vic. Trevor’s not lost his touch, I thought, and Ben Whishaw won’t be playing any more bears.

Nicely played, Nick Hytner; nicely played.

*I wound up spending most of a day there, the last time I was in London: my mom and I arrived early for the theater tour I'd booked (the London Eye, which my mom really wanted to do, took less time than I'd thought, despite the crowds), so we had tea and treats - in my case, a lemon bar - in their cafe while we waited, and did some people-watching; I loved the fact that people who didn't seem to have theater tickets were still making use of the space, like it belonged to them. Then we did the tour, which was thorough and engrossing; then I spent a long time in the gift shop/bookstore trying to determine how many books I was going to buy; then we gave up on trying to find another place to eat lunch, and just ate in the cafe. It was a really lovely day.