Balancing Acts, Hytner’s shrewd and engaging memoir of his 12 years at the National, makes it clear that from the moment he took charge in 2003 his mission was to shake up the traditional repertory and make it as broadly popular as a blockbuster musical ... All were the results of a collaborative creative process made palpable in Hytner’s vivid account. He has a particularly keen appreciation of scenic designers’ vital contributions in shaping physical space to illuminate a play’s themes ...also acknowledges the directors who gave the National a scope beyond his own tastes... The key to making that connection is the actor, and many of the best pages in his memoir contain Hytner’s perceptive and appreciative sketches of English masters... This generous, pragmatic spirit is what makes Balancing Acts not just a colorful theatrical memoir but a rousing statement of theatrical faith.
In his new memoir, Nicholas Hytner, the former artistic director of the National Theater in London, recalls the organization’s 50th-anniversary celebration in 2013 ... It is this issue of engagement, and its absence, that bedevils too many stretches of Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at London’s National Theatre ... Hytner abdicates his responsibilities as a reporter whenever the news is less than laudatory. He is a genius at taking himself down but is loath to cast that gimlet eye elsewhere ...good news is that in its last third, Balancing Acts loses some balance when Hytner locates his narrative nerve ... Where was this delectable creature 200 pages ago? Finally, he engages. Throughout the book, Hytner takes pains, periodically, to explain his natural reticence.
...many anecdotes that pepper the pages of Nicholas Hytner’s hugely entertaining memoir...subtly revealing, even-handed approach is typical of the book, which, as its title suggests, describes the many balancing acts entailed in running the UK’s flagship theatre. It’s also characteristic of Hytner’s astutely pitched style ...balances wit with intellectual gravitas, gossip with self-deprecation and mischief with serious insight, but rarely discloses his innermost thoughts and emotions ...a book that balances revelation with caution ...a palpable sense of the work and camaraderie that drives the creation of drama. Hytner has a writer’s instinct for detail, drawing you into the room with luminaries... He’s at his precise best on Shakespeare (brilliantly incisive and revealing on Hamlet) and on Alan Bennett.
Nor is gossip his thing – not entirely absent from Balancing Acts, but only a couple of the dabs in this pointillist portrait, a finely grained, multifaceted revelation of what it means to be an accomplished artistic director walking that balancing act between high- and low-brow (and entertaining the audience in the process), the insolent with the inclusive, the cackle with the visceral ...Hytner is no boor either, even without these obvious avenues of approach ... More than once, though none too often, he helps a star down a step or two from vainglory, or pokes some fun at an actor’s foibles ... Between the color commentary and all the humorous cameos – and much the meat of the story – is a master class in the anatomy of artistic directing ... is inclusive; a bricklayer, mathematician, or soccer player will become as engrossed by this material as a seasoned director, playwright, or theatergoer.
Balancing Acts is at least partly a memoir, melded with lessons learned from three decades at the hard end of the directing/producing business ... It should be read not simply by anyone who has an interest in British theatre, but anyone interested in that oldest of questions: how you make art that sells ... Though it sounds perverse to criticise the memoirs of an artistic director for featuring too much theatre, sometimes Balancing Acts reads like a rollcall of tributes, from acting pals to canteen staff, to legal team, to Trevor Nunn... While as a director he is never less than rigorous and imaginative – as anyone who has seen his productions can testify – emotional openness is not always his strong suit ... That’s not to say there aren’t brief flashes of the private man, who sounds an altogether more mischievous figure than the smooth-talking, high-achieving workaholic on public view.
His [Hynter's] enthusiasm for bringing drama to the widest possible audience is one of the underpinnings of Balancing Acts, his memoir of his years (2003 -2015) at the National ... The relevance of the plays he directed makes his discussions of them compelling reading ...also expressed more succinctly. And it’s balanced. Emphatic as he is about contemporary significance, Mr. Hytner is alert to historical changes too ... It’s not a surprise then that his thoughts on Mr. Bennett’s plays, especially his descriptions of directing and producing them, are a pleasure to read ... Some descriptions of less familiar actors or plays and the ins and outs of the workings of the National Theatre may not engage all readers, but most of this book is both fascinating and pleasurable — and certainly a must-read for devotees of NTLive and the theater in general.
...witty memoir... Throughout, Hytner describes the many compromises (the balancing acts of the title) that he and his company of actors and writers — among his collaborators were Alan Bennett, Alex Jennings, Frances de la Tour, and Maggie Smith — had to make...tone of the book is inconsistent, ranging from stream-of-consciousness to gossip to near-scholarly readings of Shakespeare, the many backstage stories...an entertaining read ... For fans of the stage, this is a pleasant peek behind the scenes during a transformative period of British theater history.
...Hytner chronicles his 12-year tenure as artistic director at the National Theatre in this detailed and stimulating look at the state of the art. He is candid, at times self-critical, as he shares fun and intimate stories of working with such luminaries... He wasn’t always able to achieve his goals, and those failures are given just consideration and make for a captivating narrative.