In 1999, Bartlett was forced to withdraw from his role as artistic director to undergo a liver transplant. During Bartlett’s 18-month absence, the theatre was run by executive director Simon Mellor with a consortium of creative associates (rather than a single acting artistic director) including Katie Mitchell, Vicky Featherstone and Cultural Industry’s Michael Morris. Bartlett returned full-time in 2001.
Today, Bartlett was keen to emphasise that his departure now is not related to any medical condition. “Given my illness in 1999, people may understandably assume that my decision to leave the Lyric is again connected with my health,” he said in a statement. “This is absolutely not the case. After ten years running a building, the fact is that I now wish to concentrate on my own work as a director and writer. My immediate plans include a new translation of Genet’s The Maids for BBC Radio Three, a staging of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage for the American Repertory Theatre in Boston and the completion of my new novel.
“This has been an immensely difficult decision to make,” Bartlett continued. “I am enormously proud of what Simon Mellor and I have created at the Lyric. When I took this job, the Lyric was weeks away from closing its doors. Now it is thriving …. This, then, seems as good a time as any to hand over the reins of this extraordinary theatre to someone new.”
During his decade as the Lyric’s artistic director, Bartlett has directed 21 shows, many of which he also adapted and/or designed. Since his return in 2001, his acclaimed productions have included The Servant, The Prince of Homburg, The Island of Slaves, Camille, the Whatsonstage.com and Olivier-nominated Pericles and, currently touring the UK following its London season, Oliver Twist. He was awarded an OBE for services to theatre in 2000.
In addition to establishing the Lyric as an eclectic producing house, since 1994, Bartlett has helped to build up the theatre’s reputation as an important London receiving house for visiting companies and artistss such as Tamasha Theatre, Told by an Idiot, Kneehigh Theatre, Frantic Assembly, Shared Experience and Robert Lepage as well as Improbable Theatre and Cultural Industry, whose multi award-winning cult hit, Shockheaded Peter, is currently enjoying a sell-out ‘last-ever’ season in Hammersmith. Earlier this month, the theatre launched its new £2.6 million, National Lottery-funded extension (See News, 1 Apr 2004).
Commenting on Bartlett’s resignation, Lyric Hammersmith chairman Sandy Orr said: “Anyone who has seen productions like Pericles and Oliver Twist will recognise that Neil Bartlett is in the very top flight of theatre directors currently working in this country. As a writer, director and designer, Neil is a genuinely original voice in British theatre. The Lyric has been immensely fortunate in having someone of his talents creating shows here and his ten years at the helm have been an enormously rich time artistically for the Lyric. We are very sad to see him leave and wish him all good fortune for the future.”
The recruitment process for Bartlett’s successor at the Lyric begins this week.
- by Terri Paddock