Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at London's National Theatre

The National Theatre in London is one of the world's best. Balancing Acts is Nicholas Hytner's memoir of 12 years as its director and, more broadly, of his career, collaborations and friendships. During his tenure, he cut ticket prices, increased audiences, found new sources of funds and developed an international live-streaming series for cinemas. British theater, Hytner writes, has always been forced to "juggle substance with pleasure. Like the Elizabethan players, who rubbed shoulders with the bear pits and the brothels, we are part of the Entertainment Industry."

Hytner produced about 20 plays at the National each year, half of them new works. He alternates backstage dramas of production meetings, rehearsals and previews with close analyses of plays and evaluations of his own mistakes and misjudgments along the way. He tells stories behind the selection and development of many shows, including Jerry Springer: The Opera, Alan Bennett's The History Boys, the adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Danny Boyle's Frankenstein and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, as well as a political play so topical that the National workshopped alternate versions and waited for a court verdict to decide which one would be staged.

Vivid anecdotes about some of the greatest figures in modern British theater will delight any theater buff. Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Ralph Fiennes and many others make substantial appearances. Balancing Acts also has plenty of appeal for anyone interested in how to make good art, attract large audiences and pay the bills at the same time. --Sara Catterall

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