Unwin Steps Down after 15 Years as ETT's DirectorDate: 13 March 2007
As his latest production, the premiere of Drew Pautz’s Someone Else's Shoes opens tonight (13 March 2007) at London’s Soho Theatre, Stephen Unwin, founder and artistic director of English Touring Theatre, one of the UK’s leading touring companies, has announced that he will step down in summer 2008 after 15 years in the job.
Since its foundation in 1993, ETT has staged over 40 plays and visited more than 75 theatres throughout the UK and overseas. It has transferred several productions to London – four to the Donmar, two to the Royal Court, two to the Old Vic and four to other West End theatres – and won 17 major national awards, including, for Unwin himself, the Shakespeare’s Globe Sam Wanamaker Award in 2003.
ETT’s catalogue to date has included 12 productions of Shakespeare (including two Hamlets, first with Alan Cumming and last year with Ed Stoppard, Henry IV with Timothy and Samuel West, and King Lear with Timothy West), five productions of Ibsen (including Hedda Gabler with Alexandra Gilbreath and Ghosts with Diana Quick and Daniel Evans) and six world premieres (including Peter Gill’s The York Realist, Richard Bean’s Honeymoon Suite and two plays by Jonathan Harvey).
Unwin has directed most of the company’s productions during his tenure, including The Old Country, Hamlet (both also in the West End), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, John Gabriel Borkman, King Lear (also Old Vic), Ghosts, The Cherry Orchard, The Master Builder, Don Juan, The Taming of the Shrew, The Seagull (also Donmar), Henry IV Parts I and II (also Old Vic), Hedda Gabler (also Donmar), As You Like It, A Doll’s House and Hamlet (also Donmar).
Significantly, in November 2003, Unwin steered ETT through a financial crisis that threatened to close the company (See News, 19 Nov 2003). "It's like an act of terrorism," the director told Whatsonstage.com at the time, "it's as if somebody has just flown a plane into my theatre company." Two subsequent tours were cancelled but, with the unstinting support of the Arts Council and its own patrons, programming resumed in September 2004.
Commenting on Unwin’s resignation, Nic Lloyd, chair of ETT’s trustees, said: “Stephen has been an immensely successful director and has established ETT as one of the leading touring companies in the UK. I have greatly enjoyed working with him and the trustees would like to thank him for his immeasurable contribution and to wish him well in all his future endeavours. He has thoughtfully given us time to reflect on how the company should move forward to the next exciting phase of its development.”
Before 1993, the Cambridge-educated Unwin worked as a freelance theatre and opera director, with productions at the National Theatre, the Royal Court, Garsington Opera, English National Opera and the Royal Opera House. He was also associate director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh for three years. During his ETT years, he also wrote a number of books, including Faber’s Pocket Guide to Shakespeare, So You Want to Be a Theatre Director and A Guide to the Plays of Bertolt Brecht. He is leaving the company to “pursue other projects”.
The artistic director vacancy will be advertised later this month. It’s hoped that Unwin’s successor will join the ETT staff from the end of this year in order to allow for a substantial crossover period. Beyond Someone Else's Shoes, which continues at Soho until 7 April (See News, 13 Feb 2007), Unwin will direct a revival of Rowley and Middleton’s bloody Jacobean tragedy The Changeling this autumn and at least one further production in the company’s spring 2008 season, his final season as artistic director, details of which will be announced shortly.
- by Terri Paddock