David Byrne. Photo by Tom Jamieson

David Byrne appointed new artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre

The Royal Court has appointed its new artistic director to replace Vicky Featherstone, who announced in February that she is leaving the Royal Court after 10 years in the job.

The new artistic director will be David Byrne, who is currently the artistic director of the New Diorama Theatre in London, a role he has held since 2011.

He will start his new job in early 2024.

The New Diorama has forged a stellar reputation over the last few years, winning The Stage fringe theatre of the year awards in 2017 and 2022.

The New Diorama’s acclaimed productions include For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy by Ryan Calais Cameron, which started life at the New Diorama, ran at the Royal Court, and ended up playing to packed houses in the West End’s Apollo Theatre.

The New Diorama’s production of Operation Mincemeat has also proved a huge hit, and is now playing at the West End’s Fortune Theatre.

Alongside being a director and producer, Byrne is also a writer, with his plays including an adaptation of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, The Incident Room co-written with Olivia Hirst, and Secret Life of Humans.

Anthony Burton CBE, Chair of the Royal Court Theatre said in a statement: “We are thrilled that David will be our next Artistic Director. As the founding Artistic Director of New Diorama, he has led it with huge success, nurturing and developing new writers and producing award winning work on international and national stages. He has a reputation for artistic excellence, creative disruption and innovation in artist support. We are very excited by the prospect of his leadership which will be fresh and surprising, whilst building on the groundbreaking legacy of his predecessor Vicky Featherstone.”

David Byrne, incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Court said: “At its founding, George Devine imagined the Royal Court to be where ‘the experimentalists of the modern era could be seen’, often ‘in advance of public taste.’ For over a decade at New Diorama, I’ve embraced those ideals, seeking out and supporting the boldest and most exhilarating artists so that, together, we could re-write the theatre rule book. In this new role, I’m excited to continue working in service of the playwrights and artists raring to take big swings. Together, we’ll shape a rejuvenating culture from which the experimentalists of this new era are safe to take risks, can gamble like they’re never going to lose, and where audiences can glimpse the future of theatre, today. Becoming the Artistic Director of the Royal Court is an honour, a privilege, and is going to be the adventure of a lifetime. I can’t wait to get started.”

Currently playing at the Royal Court is new play Cuckoo until 19 August 2023, part of Vicky Featherstone’s last season at the Royal Court. New shows coming up also include Imposter 22 from 23 September to 14 October; Mates in Chelsea from 3 November to 16 December; and the Broadway transfer of Dana H. from 16 January to 9 March 2024.

There has been a positive reaction to the announcement, with a number of high-profile industry figures praising the appointment.

Playwright Nina Segal (Shooting Hedda Gabler) said on Twitter that, “David Byrne encourages artists to be braver, bolder, weirder – to take more risks in the knowledge that he has their backs. Super excited for this era of the Royal Court.”

Star of Operation Mincemeat and co-artistic director of the show’s producers Splitlip, David Cummings, said on Twitter, “And just like that @royalcourt became the most exciting theatre in the UK!!”, and that it was “so well deserved!! A great day for British theatre”.

Playwright Tanika Gupta, writer of The Empress, of which there was a new production this week at the RSC, said on Twitter that Byrne was a “radical, dynamic appointment for the Royal Court”.

The Guardian’s chief theatre critic Arifa Akbar said in the Guardian today that, “In appointing David Byrne as its new artistic director, the Royal Court has embraced the true spirit of experimentalism”, and that the New Diorama Theatre has become “the place to go for edgy, exciting shows, often by young playwrights showing signs of raw talent. Byrne seems to sow the seed and water it”. She went on to say that, “I hope he brings an unexpected edge to the Royal Court and that he does not temper his radical, dynamic, fringe sensibility, or grow more commercially conservative. He must take the spirit of the New Diorama with him.”

📷 Main photo: David Byrne. Photo by Tom Jamieson

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