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Musical Chairs All Over

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We're entering one of those periods of musical chairs and upheaval in the British theatre when important artistic directorship jobs are suddenly available all over the place.

There's been a lot of publicity surrounding the appointment of Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse, but that of Dominic Hill to the Glasgow Citizens, after a successful tenure at the Traverse in Edinburgh, is just as significant and interesting.

Hill, who makes his RSC debut this summer with a revival of Philip Massinger's The City Madam in the refurbished Swan, is a seriously talented director - his recent Peer Gynt for the National Theatre of Scotland was one of the best I'ver ever seen; and Massinger was not only the sort of Elizabethan/Jacobean playwright the Swan was conceived to accommodate, he was also a favourite in the great Glasgow regime of Giles Havergal and Philip Prowse that Hill, declaring a commitment to the classics, is hoping to emulate.

Hill has a big job on his hands to restore the slightly tarnished imgae of the Citizens over the past few years under Jeremy Raison, when the touring programme has been indistinguishable from the in-house repertoire.

And of course, the next question is: who takes over at the Traverse? That question is almost as big as: who now takes over from Ian Brown at the West Yorkshire Playhouse? Brown, himself a former director of the Traverse, has done a solid job these last 12 years, and is not leaving until the end of next year, allowing the board plenty of time to consider their options.  

An even bigger opportunity presents itself in the Second City at the Birmingham Rep, where Rachel Kavanaugh is leaving after six good years to have her second baby (her first is not yet two years old) and to resume, thereafter, a freelance career in an overcrowded pool. We have loads of talented freelance directors like Rachel: not so many inspirational leaders prepared to lay down their lives for regional theatre.

Just look at the impact Jonathan Church is having on our national theatre, not just as a director, but primarily as an artistic director at Chichester. The same is potentially true of Daniel Evans at Sheffield and, to a lesser extent, of Laurie Sansom at the Northampton Derngate and Royal and of Philip Wilson at the little Salisbury Playhouse.

Rourke running the Donmar in succession to, and presumably along much the same sort of commercially minded lines as, Sam Mendes and Michael Grandage, is far less urgent a matter than who takes over in Glasgow, Leeds or Birmingham. The very life and texture of our theatre is at stake in these great cities, and the social and civic responsibility far greater, too.

The Birmingham Rep is now closed for two years before reopening alongside the great new Library of Birmingham in its centenary year of 2013. The new director will have to lead the company around the city in a variety of other venues before re-launching in the re-built venue.

Rachel Kavanaugh leaves her job, and its prospects and programme, in pretty good shape. The same is true of Josie Rourke at the Bush, who will see the theatre into its new home in the old Shepherd's Bush library on the Uxbridge Road, literally five minutes around the corner.

She has worked hard with her team and the local council for 18 months securing this new home, and she took the critics on a guided tour of the place recently, showing off the big new theatre area and all the surrounding office and rehearsal space that is going to be overhauled by architect Steve Tompkins, the brains behind the exciting transformations of the Royal Court and the Young Vic.
There's absolutely no guarantee, however, that the particular squashed atmosphere of the Bush, for all its recent problems with the pub landlords and the series of leaks and power cuts, will be recreated, or even assimilated, in the new premises; it was impossible to tell by walking round the place.

One of the things I really like about the new Arcola is the height of the performance area; the new Bush has a dangerously low ceiling. And the front entrance is a little too close to the road. But the building itself is a Victorian gem, and the potential itself exciting enough.

We're counting down now to the announcement of the Arts Council cuts. It would be a travesty and a betrayal of the council's function, and a fatal blow to our nation's cultural well being, if any of these theatres were too severely damaged by threats to their revenue funding.

The Traverse and the Citizens do not come within ACE's remit. But the Donmar, to a limited extent, does. And I've got a funny feeling that the high-profile Donmar is much more of a concern to the Arts Council than is the network of our more essential regional theatres. I just hope I'm wrong.


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