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Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah to step down as Young Vic artistic director

Kwame Kwei-Armah is stepping down as artistic director of the Young Vic theatre after six years in the role (David Parry/PA) (PA Archive)
Kwame Kwei-Armah is stepping down as artistic director of the Young Vic theatre after six years in the role (David Parry/PA) (PA Archive)

Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah has announced he will be stepping down as artistic director of the Young Vic theatre after six years in the role.

The 56-year-old star became the first African-Caribbean director to lead a major British theatre when he took over from playwright David Lan in February 2018. He said the role has been the “honour of a lifetime”.

During his time at the Young Vic, he produced 40 shows for the London theatre and has advocated for increasing diversity within the industry.

Kwei-Armah was a staunch advocate for the protection of the arts industry during the pandemic, and ahead of his departure in the autumn, he called for “government intervention” to protect the future of British theatre.

Following the news, the Casualty actor said: “It’s been the honour of a lifetime to lead the Young Vic, and I have been served magnificently by the team at the Arts Council, the board and all of my colleagues.

“I step down knowing that our team and artists are representative of London and that we have continued the theatre’s incredible contribution to this industry and our community.”

Reflecting on his time in the role, Kwei-Armah said his focus has been on “innovation, access and community” and that he is “proud” of what they have achieved.

Kwei-Armah said the role has been the “honour of a lifetime” (India Mae Alby/Young Vic/PA Wire)
Kwei-Armah said the role has been the “honour of a lifetime” (India Mae Alby/Young Vic/PA Wire)

He added it is a “bittersweet moment” because he feels he is leaving a subsidised sector which has been affected by “13 years of standstill funding”.

He called on the Government to provide more support for the industry, saying: “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.”

Kwei-Armah also thanked the audiences and supporters of the Young Vic and invited them to watch the last shows under his tenure, which will include the European premiere of a post-modern black rock musical titled Passing Strange, directed by Tony-nominated director Liesl Tommy, and will run from 15 May 14 to 6 July.

The final production Kwei-Armah will direct as Young Vic artistic director will be the world premiere of A Face In The Crowd, which is a “cautionary tale about the dangers of celebrity, power and politics”, based on the 1957 film of the same name.

The production, which features music and lyrics by singer Elvis Costello, will run from September 10 to November 9.

Another show, The Little Foxes, about “greed, ambition and a family on the edge”, will be staged at the theatre from December 4 to February 2025, with Olivier Award-winning director Lyndsey Turner at the helm.

Glenn Earle, chairman of the theatre’s board, hailed Kwei-Armah as an “exceptional artist and inspirational leader”.

“Kwame has led the Young Vic during one of the most challenging periods for the theatre sector in living memory and has done so with great skill, courage and clarity of vision,” he said.

He also thanked Kwei-Armah for his work with the Young Vic and wished him well for the next steps in his career.

He added: “We will soon start looking for someone who shares our values to lead the Young Vic into our next exciting phase of globally significant theatre-making with a clarity of vision and purpose and unbridled creativity and joy.”