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Kwame Kwei-Armah is the new Young Vic artistic director

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Lady from the Sea rehearsals, Donmar Warehouse

The job of Young Vic artistic director is one of the juiciest in British theatre, having been held by the brilliant David Lan for the best part of two decades. He changed the face of British theatre and the org spawned numerous influential productions and West End transfers during his reign.

Earlier this year he announced he was be stepping down – and now we know who’s replacing him. 

Kwame Kwei-Armah has enjoyed one of the more unusual career trajectories in British stage and screen: he first became famous as an actor, playing paramedic Fin in ‘Casualty’, then wrote a string of hit plays for the National Theatre – famously including the West End transfer smash ‘Elmina’s Kitchen’ – then he went off to run the Centre Stage Theatre in Baltimore.

Now he’s back and has been appointed to the artistic directorship of the Young Vic. 

Is it a good call? Well only time will really tell: we’re yet to see any programming, and Kwei-Armah’s work running a regional American theatre probably not be entirely indicative of what he’ll stage in London.

But it is certainly indisputable that there’s a lack of diversity amongst London’s artistic directors that this goes a way to redressing: Kwei-Armah will be the third and highest profile BAME director of a major London venue after Indhu Rubasingham at the Tricycle and Madani Younis at the Bush. 

It is likely to be a fairly dramatic shift for the sort of work the Vic hosts, though there are probably more similarities than one might think: the two men would seem to have a not-incompatible taste in new and American writing, both have been known to programme the odd musical, and while the assumption is the Vic will grow less Europhile under Kwei-Armah, it’s worth nothing that he’s currently back in town to direct a production of Ibsen’s ‘The Lady from the Sea’ over at the Donmar.

Either way, Lan’s mission of bringing a European sensibility to the UK theatre scene has manifestly been a success. It’s time for a fresh start, and Kwame Kwei-Armah emphatically looks like the man to provide it.

The Lady from the Sea’ is at the Donmar Warehouse. Oct 12-Dec 2.

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