Kwame Kwei-Armah announces his final season and will step down as artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre

Words: Sophia A Jackson
Published: Saturday 19 February 2024, 7:45am

Kwame Kwei-Armah. Photo by India Mae Alby
Kwame Kwei-Armah. Photo by India Mae Alby

Kwame Kwei-Armah joined the Young Vic as Artistic Director in February 2018, becoming the first African Caribbean director to lead a major British theatre.  During his tenure he has produced 40 productions across the theatre’s spaces, including 30 in the Main House where more than half of all writers and directors were women. Black and Global Majority artists have directed over half and written 48% of all Main House shows. Off stage, the Young Vic has gone from 11% to 44% Black and Global Majority staff across the organisation and 40% in senior management.

Under Kwame’s leadership three critically acclaimed productions have transferred to the West End, along with two Broadway transfers, plus a feature film adaptation is shortly due for release. He launched Best Seat in Your House, an innovative new streaming platform, in 2021, which took Young Vic shows to audiences across 86 countries. The Creators Program, formerly the Directors Program, launched in 2022, celebrating multi and anti-disciplinary artists and re-imagining future practice. Taking Part reached new corners across London and internationally, from New York to Australia, with unique community shows and partnerships, along with its radical innovation in schools, championing the value that artists and creative teaching bring to classrooms.

Young Vic productions have been recognised with numerous awards and nominations every year during Kwame’s tenure and most recently in 2023 alone received an Olivier Award, a Critics Circle Award, two Tony Award nominations and more.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic 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.

“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.

“I want to thank our audiences and supporters who have continued their Young Vic journey with us and many who have joined us for the first time. I invite you to join me as I’m rocking out at the Young Vic with shows that mean the world to me and sum up what a building like this can do. Passing Strange is a brilliant post-modern Black rock musical directed by Liesl Tommy with book and lyrics by Stewand music by Stew Stewart and Heidi Rodewald; A Face in the Crowd is a political metaphor for our times with music by Elvis Costello and book by Sarah Ruhl; and Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes with Lyndsey Turner, sees one of the finest directors in Britain, making a classic play speak to the here and now.”

Glenn Earle, Chair of the Board, said: “It has been one of the great pleasures of my professional life to work closely with the phenomenon that is Kwame Kwei-Armah.

“Kwame is an exceptional artist and inspirational leader. He has brought his energy, creativity, artistic brilliance, generosity of spirit and sense of social responsibility to the role of Artistic Director of the Young Vic over the last six years. Leading and inspiring an incredible team, he has built on the extraordinary achievements of those artistic directors who have come before him to make the Young Vic the groundbreaking, representative and world leading theatre it is today.

“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 has ensured excellence on our stages and positive impact well beyond The Cut. Under Kwame’s leadership, multiple Young Vic productions have transferred to the West End and Broadway, Best Seat in Your House has been streamed to over 85 countries and industry awards have regularly come our way.

“At the same time, Kwame has demonstrated a clear and consistent commitment to community – both to theatre more broadly and to the people of Lambeth and Southwark – and has ensured that we have continued to invest in and expand the reach both of our artist-based Creators Program and our local community-oriented Taking Part.

“On behalf of the Board, I thank Kwame for all he has done for the Young Vic and wish him all the very best for the next steps of his artistic and creative career when he leaves us later this year. In the meantime, I am confident that Kwame’s final season will be absolutely unmissable.

“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.”

In addition to the upcoming season, Kwame will programme a further production for 2025 and will step down in Autumn 2024. Recruitment for a new Artistic Director will begin from next week.