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Encore Theatre Magazine
::Front Page::

:: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 ::

Jack Bradley

A kind friend forwarded Jack's email announcing the sad news of his retirement from the post of Literary Manager of the National Theatre.
After twelve very happy years at the National pontificating about playwriting, offering unwanted and sometimes unwarranted advice, I’ve decided to stop telling people how to write plays and I’m going to try and write some more of my own. Whether or not this will be for the greater good of Dramatic Literature, I suspect this humbling next step will be very good for my soul, not to mention the hapless victims of my more wayward views. All I can say is that I feel I have been privileged to read and learn from the work of my friends and peers. I believe the last decade will be remembered as a halcyon time. Not since the turn of the 16th Century has the South Bank and London Theatre seen such an explosion of talent. Long may it continue and I’ll see you in a theatre foyer soon!
Jack has been one of the major positives of the last decade. In fact since 1994, he's nurtured countless playwrights, whether by offering them commissions, reading their work, meeting them, passing their plays to other theatres, getting them into the building, pairing them up with directors and actors. The National's always been a bit of a director's theatre, certainly after Olivier's departure. It's never been a writer's theatre; when it's tried to be, as in the mid-eighties, it's usually just succeeded in turning writers into directors. But the National has championed many important new writers in the last decade - Moira Buffini, Patrick Marber, Gregory Burke, Mark Ravenhill, Owen McCafferty, Shelagh Stevenson, Joe Penhall, David Eldridge, Nick Darke, Nick Dear, Samuel Adamson, Roy Williams, Conor McPherson, Simon Stephens, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Martin McDonagh, Gary Owen, Tanika Gupta, and many others - and most of them were seen on the National's stages directly or indirectly because of Jack's influence. The National has been much more of a writer's theatre during Jack's time. He reads a lot, goes to see new work a lot, and is very approachable. He likes a wide range of stuff, from Crimp to J T Rogers, from Stephens to Dear. He's been good news and Encore contemplates the future of the National's literary department with some anxiety.

Fortunately he's going back to playwriting. He rather nobly suspended his playwriting when he took on the literary manager role, believing that he couldn't really be critiquing other people's work when he was focused on his own. We wish him good luck.

Now. Who's your top tip to take over?

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I vote Lucy Morrison or Jessica Dromgoole - brilliant unsung parts of Paines Plough's success in the decade under Featherstone, and Lucy's direction of Mark Ravenhill's Product is cracking. Strange feeling that something a bit more radical than re-appointment might happen though...
Given that the running of the Studio is also going to be rather radically overhauled, I wouldn't be surprised.
Sebastian Born has been appointed Associate Director (Literary) to replace Jack.
The new head of studio is Purni Morell.
So it sounds like the Royal National Theatre are following the National Theatre of Scotland in that. John Tiffany is Associate Director (Literary) there. I have to say I don't think all the playwrights you mention have contributed that positively to the National's position in new writing circles. Samuel Adamson's Southwark Fair, for example, bored me to tears.
Sure, Southwark Fair wasn't perfect, but it's still about encouraging an important writer with a lot of potential. That is also about allowing people to make mistakes.

The appointment of Sebastian Born is interesting and it confirms the rumours we'd heard. It looks like the shake-up is about integrating the National's activities more directly. Sebastian will be less of a classic 'literary manager' fighting the writers' corner, since he has as much of a track record representing directors at the Agency. They've been talking about making the Studio feed more directly into the mnain stages. Jack was perhaps too wayward for the new regime. So it's looking likely that Jack was pushed.

Purni Morell is a longtime friend of Nick Starr, so it's an appointment that obviously brings that Studio under the wing of the central artistic team.

This is sad. But the news about BAC's possible closure is sadder still.
For whom?
Audiences and the theatre community.
What a shame. Jessica Dromgoole would have been the ideal choice - there isn't a more perceptive or generous literary manager.
i have to disagree with encore here. on a personal level, none of the replies i've received from jack have struck me as perceptive, intelligent, or generous. and the theatre has tended to produce plays that don't represent a writer's best work. it was very clear watching the overwhelming, or southwark fair, or market boy, or the pillowman, that these plays could have been so much better than they were, if the writers had had the chance to work with a skilled and imaginative dramaturg..
Anonymous - You obviously know J.T. Rogers's previous work better than me, but I would certainly say that The Pillowman was economical, haunting, extremely engaging to watch and, in my opinion, Martin McDonagh's best play yet, so I'd have to disagree with you there. Southwark Fair and Market Boy were both ambitious (in different ways) and this is something that should be commended. I wouldn't say I enjoyed either of them enormously, but I wouldn't blame the dramaturgical support the writers had been given.

Theatre Worker - do you think the appointment of Sebastian Born could mean more auteurish directors coming on to the scene at the National to join Katie Mitchell? Speaking of which, anyone know what Neil Bartlett's been up to of late?
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