Theatre Royal Stratford East this weekend (Sunday 12 September) marks the departure of Philip Hedley, who steps down this month exactly 25 years after being appointed artistic director, with a 500-strong party attended by guests involved with the multi-culturally pioneering east London theatre during Hedley’s time there.

Amongst those expected to attend tonight’s send-off are Meera Syal, George Sewell, Alan Ford and the casts of Five Guys Named Moe, The Invisible Man and Steaming (all West End transfers under Hedley's direction).

Hedley announced earlier this year that he would be stepping down, both as artistic director and chief executive (See News, 21 Jan 2004). His association with the theatre pre-dates those appointment. In 1961, he was one of the first in-take of students at E15 Acting School which grew out of the famed Theatre Workshop company, resident at Theatre Royal. In 1972, he became assistant to both Joan Littlewood and Gerry Raffles, who asked him also to join the board, of which he later became chair.

Over the past 25 years, Hedley has produced and/or directed over 160 productions of new work at Stratford, including seven productions which transferred to the West End. In the late 1990s, Hedley oversaw the theatre's £4.5 million refurbishment, which took two and a half years, officially reopening in December 2001 (See News, 13 Dec 2001). The theatre’s board has now bestowed on Hedley the title Director Emeritus.

Hedley will be succeeded, from 26 September, by Kerry Michael (pictured left with Hedley right), who joined Stratford East six years ago as an associate director. Michael has vowed to “uphold Philip’s commitment to develop new talent” and provide a platform for under-represented stage voices.

The first play Michael will direct under his new guise will be The Battle of Green Lanes, running from 15 October to 13 November 2004. Set amongst London’s Cypriot community and exploring the long-standing enmity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, it’s written by first-time playwright Cosh Osmar, who is of Turkish Cypriot extraction (as opposed to Michael himself, who has a Greek Cypriot background).

- by Hannah Kennedy