Kelly's resignation follows a dramatic upheaval in the leaderships of London's main producing theatres. Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid (joint artistic directors of the Almeida), Jenny Topper (Hampstead Theatre) and Sam Mendes (Donmar Warehouse) have all announced their departures over the past few months (the last two, in just the past few weeks). And those announcements followed the very high-profile changeover at the National Theatre, after Trevor Nunn confirmed last April that he would not be staying on there. Kelly was a frontrunner in the race to succeed Nunn but, as revealed in September, the position eventually went to Nicholas Hytner, who officially takes over at the South Bank complex in April 2003.
During the final weeks of the NT scramble, speculation over Kelly's appointment reached fever pitch when it was announced that she had purchased a home in London. At the time, she said that she was not moving South, but rather that the property was acquired so that she could be closer during term time to her son, who had enrolled at the Royal Ballet School. However, today's announcement suggests that the house might provide a more permanent base. One of her first projects on leaving WYP will be overseeing "Metal", a studio for artistic research, currently in development in West Hampstead, north London. Kelly's new proximity will also put her name firmly back on the list of prospective candidates for the upcoming vacancies at the Hampstead, Almeida and Donmar Warehouse theatres.
Kelly became artistic director of the WYP in 1998, prior to the building opening in 1990. Under her leadership, the theatre has established a reputation as one of the country's most innovative and powerful regional producing companies. Highlights of her WYP years have included Wole Soyinka's Beatification of Area Boy (1996); an ensemble company led by Sir Ian McKellen, which presented The Seagull, The Tempest and Present Laughter in repertory in 1998; and, this autumn, the JB Priestley season, featuring Patrick Stewart in the first major revival of Johnson Over Jordan for half a century. Kelly's tenure has also seen numerous tours and transfers of WYP productions, including Laurie Sansom's revival of Priestley's Dangerous Corner, now in the West End, and the musical Singin' in the Rain, which won an Olivier after its National run last year and which is being revived for a major UK tour next spring.
Commenting on her decision today, Kelly said: "The West Yorkshire Playhouse has afforded me a thrilling opportunity to work with regional, national and international artists, colleagues and policy-makers, and having watched the bricks of the building being laid, it is hard for me now to leave this wonderful theatre. However, artistic institutions thrive on constant challenge and change and so do the individuals within them. I am excited by what new challenges the future holds for me and am keen to see the Playhouse evolve under new leadership."
Playhouse chairman Bernard Atha added: "Jude is a woman of boundless energy and enormous artistic creativity. A group of visionaries built the unique two auditoria theatre. Jude turned its bricks and mortar into a living and exciting organisation with a national reputation for innovation and excellence. Having her as artistic director has been like living on a theatrical roller coaster. We shall be extremely sad to see her go."
Despite her resignation, Kelly has expressed her intention to maintain an "ongoing relationship" with WYP beyond next year.
- by Terri Paddock