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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Robert Dex and Arts Correspondent

Young Vic's Kwame Kwei-Armah stands down and warns of 'painful reality' for UK theatre

Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah is standing down with a warning that “13 years of standstill funding” for theatres threatens the “pipeline of talent” bringing new actors, writers and directors to the fore.

He has been in charge at the theatre in Waterloo since 2018, bringing shows including Death of a Salesman, Best of Enemies and Cush Jumbo’s Hamlet to its stage.

Announcing he is leaving the role in Autumn this year, he said it had been “the honour of a lifetime” to run the theatre.

He said: “The three pillars that have guided my tenure have been innovation, access and community, and I’m proud of all that we have achieved.

“But it is a bittersweet moment. The painful reality is I am leaving a subsidised sector where 13 years of standstill funding is taking its toll.

“For decades the theatre industry has fuelled the UK’s world-renowned creative industries, providing vital pathways for artists to flourish, going from subsidised theatre, into the West End, and into TV and film.

“But without investment we could lose this pipeline of talent within a generation. I’m hopeful that this can and must change but it needs sincere government intervention.”

The last round of government arts funding, announced in November 2022, saw many of London’s subsidised theatres from The Gate and Hampstead Theatre to Donmar Warehouse stripped of their grants although the Young Vic’s funding was held steady at around £1.7 million.

Ruth Wilson (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Mr Kwei-Armah has produced 40 shows during his stint in charge, with woman accounting for more than half of all writers and directors and black and global majority artists directing and writing 48 per cent of the shows in the main stage.

Among major talent he brought to the Young Vic are Ruth Wilson, Paul Bettany, Wendell Pierce, Sharon D Clarke and David Harewood.

Glenn Earle, who chairs the theatre’s board, said Mr Kwei-Armah had steered the Young Vic through “one of the most challenging periods for the theatre sector in living memory”.

He said the search for a new artistic director will start next week.

Mr Kwei-Armah will bow out with a final season that sees him team up with singer-songwriter Elvis Costello on a musical version of the Hollywood classic A Face in the Crowd.

It follows a drunken country singer who rises to fame and influence but comes to despise his audience and the world of celebrity.

His final season also includes a “post-modern Black rock musical” Passing Strange and a revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, directed by Lyndsey Turner, about a feuding family set to inherit a successful business in small town America.

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