In brief: Balancing Acts; Francis I; The Fire Court

Nicholas Hytner goes behind the scenes at the National Theatre, Francis I of France is brought to rip-roaring life, and a murderer stalks the streets of London after the Great Fire

Balancing Acts

Nicholas Hytner
Vintage, £9.99 (paperback)

As Rufus Norris, his successor as artistic director of the National Theatre, continues to attract mixed notices for his productions, Nicholas Hytner could be forgiven for looking back at his own time there with smug satisfaction. Thankfully, this engaging and thoroughly humane memoir of his experiences at the National avoids both luvvie anecdotes and excessive angst. Instead, Hytner proves an erudite, cheery chronicler of his notable successes (including The History Boys and War Horse) while not being afraid to acknowledge some of the more egregious failures on his watch, with self-deprecating stories aplenty. A must-read for anyone interested in theatre.

Francis I: The Maker of Modern France

Leonie Frieda
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25

Can a serious historical biography be too entertaining? In the case of Leonie Frieda’s rip-roaring book about Francis I, it’s a close-run thing. Frieda paints a surprisingly funny account of a king obsessed by power and sex, who took Renaissance France in directions that his predecessors would never have dared, but was nearly undone by his own hubris; only his mother Louise’s intelligence and steadfast diplomacy saved him. The scene-setting first couple of chapters verge on the stodgy, but after that Frieda maintains a fine balance between psychological insight, the intricacies and etiquette of 16th-century diplomacy and uproarious anecdotes of regal bad behaviour.

The Fire Court

Andrew Taylor
HarperCollins, £14.99

Andrew Taylor’s sequel to his bestselling historical novel The Ashes of London is set after the Great Fire as the king attempts to restore order to the devastated city. Protagonists James Marwood and Cat Lovett return to this London of teeming criminals – including an opportunistic murderer. Once again, Taylor combines his detailed research with a deviously twist-laden storyline, and in Cat he has a heroine of spirit and chutzpah you just want to see more of.

To order Balancing Acts for £8.49, Francis I for £21.25, or The Fire Court for £12.74, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Alexander Larman

The GuardianTramp

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