Rufus Norris, who takes over as artistic director of the National Theatre in London next April, was nearly an actor. Nearly a successful actor, in fact: he trained at RADA, and has the kind of lowering good looks—Mr Rochester by way of Easter Island—that would have guaranteed him at least a few interesting auditions. But in his early days hanging out at Arts Threshold, a fringe theatre in west London, he was told he was “too gobby” to be an actor, and so he switched to running the show instead—a change of pace for which we should be grateful.
In person he’s restrained, thoughtful, ever so slightly intimidating. And his shows reflect a similar, serious intellectual engagement—he has said, with some moral urgency, that his job is “telling stories, and getting at the truth”. Yet, like his slightly younger contemporary Rupert Goold (42 to Norris’s 49), he is a highly theatrical theatre director: his productions are multi-layered, exuberant, brimming with visual inventiveness. The difference is that Goold’s inventiveness sometimes seems to run riot for its own sake; Norris’s serves the show.
There have been several notable high points in a career with almost as many peaks as the Himalayas: a stripped-back, pulsating staging of Thomas Vinterberg’s 1998 Dogme film “Festen” for the Almeida in 2004; a joyful, playful adaptation of DBC Pierre’s novel “Vernon God Little” for the Young Vic in 2007; and “London Road” at the National in 2011, which dealt with the Ipswich murders and singlehandedly created a new form—the verbatim musical. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”, David Hare’s adaptation of Katherine Boo’s award-winning non-fiction narrative about slum-dwellers in Mumbai, seems right up his street: rich with life and voices of all kinds, ranging far beyond the fourth wall, telling a story people need to hear. It opens at the National shortly, and as a statement of intent for the Norris regime, it’s a good omen.
~ Isabel Lloyd
Behind the Beautiful Forevers Olivier, London, Nov 10th to Jan 14th
THEATRE AT A GLANCE
Golem (Young Vic, London, Dec 9th to Jan 17th). The animation-and-live-theatre specialists 1927 return to London with a new show, a modern take on the Jewish monster myth that should play strongly to their aesthetic—part Terry Gilliam, part Fritz Lang.
Another Place (Theatre Royal, Plymouth, Nov 6th-22nd). A new play from D.C. Moore exploring man’s obsession with wanting to be elsewhere—in this case outer space. No big names in the cast, though Leah Brotherhood, who as Jane Seymour gave easily the most intriguing performance in the RSC’s “Wolf Hall”/“Bring up the Bodies” double bill, is one to watch.
Constellations (Samuel J. Friedman, New York, from Dec 16th). Lucky New York, part one: Nick Payne’s sharply etched, deeply affecting two-hander about memory and loss was one of the standouts of the Royal Court’s 2012 season. Its Broadway premiere has Jake Gyllenhaal as the alternatively hapless and hopeful hero.
A Particle of Dread (Alice Griffin, New York, from Nov 11th). Lucky New York, part two: Stephen Rea and Lloyd Hutchinson reprise their roles in this Sam Shepard reworking of “Oedipus Rex”, first seen—and praised—at last year’s Derry/Londonderry City of Culture.
Assassins Jamie Lloyd continues his bid to have a show playing in every postcode in London. The comedy-heavy casting—Catherine Tate, Mike McShane, Andy Nyman—says he’ll be pointing up the satire in Sondheim’s killer musical.
Swallows and Amazons (Old Vic, Bristol, Nov 27th to Jan 17th). A welcome revival of Tom Morris’s sophisticated, energetic adaptation of the Arthur Ransome novels: aside from Bryony Lavery’s reboot of “Treasure Island” at the National, if you want to avoid trad panto, this is the best bet for children this winter. ~ IL