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

Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah said it has been the “honour of a lifetime” to be the artistic director of the Young Vic theatre as he announced his departure after six years in the role.

The 56-year-old star of stage and screen became the first African-Caribbean director to lead a major British theatre when he took over from playwright David Lan in February 2018.

During his tenure, he has produced 40 shows with the central London theatre and has been an advocate for increasing diversity within the industry and for protecting the arts during the pandemic.

Ahead of his departure in the autumn, he called for “government intervention” to protect the future of British theatre and the arts and announced his final season in the role.

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

However, he added that 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.”

Kwame Kwei-Armah has been artistic director of the Young Vic for six years (India Mae Alby/Young Vic/PA)
Kwame Kwei-Armah has been artistic director of the Young Vic for six years (India Mae Alby/Young Vic/PA)

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 May 14 to July 6.

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.”

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Kwame Kwei-Armah was made an OBE for services to drama in 2012 (Sean Dempsey/PA)

Kwei-Armah started out as an actor, playing paramedic Finlay Newton in the medial drama Casualty and also appeared in its spin-off show, Holby City, and police drama The Bill.

Before taking on the role at the Young Vic, he held the same title at the Baltimore Centre Stage in Maryland from 2011 to 2018.

Kwei-Armah’s works as a playwright include One Love, Elmina’s Kitchen, Fix Up, Statement Of Regret, and Seize The Day.

His production of One Night In Miami at the Donmar Warehouse was nominated for an Olivier Award for best new play.

He was chancellor of the University of the Arts London from 2010 to 2015, and in 2012 was made an OBE for services to drama.