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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Trevor Nunn: Success under fire
Trevor Nunn
Nunn took over the RNT from Richard Eyre in 1997

By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

Trevor Nunn's announcement that he will not seek a second term as director of the Royal National Theatre comes as no surprise to theatre watchers.

As early as last November Nunn had given interviews where he said as much.

In one interview he even compared running the National to "juggling plates, while riding a unicycle, on a tightrope, over Niagara Falls".

Singin' in the Rain
Nunn was behind successful musical transfers like Singin' In the Rain
There have only been three directors at the RNT on London's South Bank since it opened there in 1976 - Richard Eyre took over from Sir Peter Hall in 1988 and had a golden reign.

Under Nunn, state subsidy of the theatre has risen and he created an ensemble company of actors who are kept on the payroll, providing welcome security for actors.

Nunn's sell-out successes of late include last year's The Cherry Orchard starring Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, a revival of Noises Off and Hamlet starring Simon Russell-Beale.


This year My Fair Lady and Lifex3 have already been raves with critics and public alike.

Nunn has always had a golden touch.

Maureen Lipman starred in Nunn's Oklahoma!
He was director of The Royal Shakespeare Company for 18 years, taking over from Sir Peter Hall.

His lasting legacy there is his production of Les Miserables which has earned around 15m for the RSC.

He has also directed such diverse hits as Cats, Starlight Express and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

In addition he has directed three films - most recently Twelfth Night in 1996 starring Imogen Stubbs and Helena Bonham Carter - to moderate acclaim.

In his private life he has been connected to some of the most attractive women in the business.

Nunn's marriages to actress Janet Suzman and dancer Sharon Lee Hall were well publicised and both broke down.

Nunn and his current wife Imogen Stubbs - with whom he has two children - are often to be seen at RNT openings and fashionable restaurants.

Imogen Stubbs
Imogen Stubbs starred in Nunn's Twelfth Night
Some attribute Nunn's feeling for what will make a sell-out hit comes from his origins in a "working class area" of Ipswich.

Nunn is quoted as saying he used to throw stones at the Conservative candidates when they came around electioneering.


As such the accusations that the National's clientele is disproportionately middle-class and right leaning must hurt.

Though Nunn is adamant that he is "not bourgeois" - his student life at Cambridge University was comfortable to say the least.

He was president of the University actors and a member of the famous Footlights Club, the Cambridge acting troupe that nurtured Emma Thompson.

Nunn has a contract with the National which links the theatre's fortunes with his own.

It is this clause which has led to accusations in the media of shameless commerciality, something inappropriate for the director of a subsidised theatre.

Nunn also directed the musical Cats
As artistic director of the successful musical My Fair Lady, Nunn looks set to make a tidy profit, as he did from other National Theatre transfers like Oklahoma!

Nunn's predecessor at the National, Sir Richard Eyre, also benefited from transfers to the West End but the amount he could receive was capped.

Admittedly there have been flops as well as big hits under Nunn's tenure at the National, and he would have to suffer any losses too.


The Evening Standard and The Guardian newspapers united for a period last year in asking Nunn to step down after disastrous productions of The Villain's Opera and two troubled plays had to be dropped.

It does not help his press image that Nunn has a habit of making controversial statements.

In 1999 he caused outrage amongst charities for the homeless when he attacked "stinking London", particularly criticising rough sleepers as the cause of much of the litter and filth in the West End.

Trevor Nunn with Sir Richard Eyre
Nunn took over the RNT from Richard Eyre
He once told an interviewer that the term "luvvy" applied to actors was as "abhorrent" as a "racist word".

But Nunn is defiant, pointing to the National's string of awards - Oliviers, Evening Standard and Critic's Circle this year alone.

Actors too are widely supportive of him. Vanessa Redgrave even wrote a letter in his defence to a newspaper last year.

This autumn, Nunn is set to direct South Pacific, a show that has the potential to follow My Fair Lady into the record books.

He probably will not need to work for a while when he retires from the National, but if he does decide to take on a new position, he will not be short of offers.

See also:

23 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Stage stars line up for Oliviers
18 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Olivier awards: Winners in full
22 Mar 01 | Reviews
Fair Lady's luvverly show
07 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Kidman set for London stage
28 Mar 01 | Arts
RSC: Shakespeare and beyond
31 Mar 99 | Entertainment
More than a stage whisper
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