Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood to leave RSC

Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood are to step down from their roles at artistic director and executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company by the end of 2012.

After nearly ten years in charge of the world’s most famous classical theatre company, the pair have announced they will both depart during the course of next year, after replacements have been appointed and following a hand-over period.

Their decision to leave was announced at the RSC’s annual general meeting today and will come soon after the departure of chairman Christopher Bland, who handed over to Nigel Hugill at the meeting. It is understood that while the pair’s decision to leave will mean a major overhaul for the company, it was not unexpected.

Boyd was appointed in 2002, replacing Adrian Noble the following year and inheriting a £2.8 million deficit along with controversial plans to demolish the company’s Stratford-upon-Avon home. Alongside Heywood – who joined him in 2004 – Boyd helped to overturn the deficit, reintroducing an ensemble ethos to the RSC, and the pair oversaw new plans for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to be retained and redeveloped. The Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres reopened last November following a £112.8 million refurbishment.

Outgoing chair Christopher Bland commented: “It has been an extraordinary seven years since I became chairman and I am very proud of all that the company has achieved. We reopened on time and on budget and our new home has had a fantastic reception from critics and audiences alike. The RSC’s ambition soared last year, as we not only moved back into the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres with a major programme of reopening events and productions, but also took an eight-play Shakespeare repertoire to London’s Roundhouse, played a major season in Newcastle and premiered Matilda the Musical to critical acclaim.

“At the heart of this success has been true collaboration – with theatre staff and artists, with our audiences and many, many partners. Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood have led the company brilliantly during this period of change. Together we’ve returned it to a sound financial footing and delivered on our ambition to bring actors and audiences closer together.

“After almost a decade at the helm, they have told the board that they intend to step down from their respective roles as artistic director and executive director by the end of next year – leaving the company in good heart and the way open for a new pairing to take the RSC forward into the future.”

Following today’s announcement, Hugill will set up a selection committee to search for replacements. The board hopes that the new appointments will be in place by the first quarter of 2012, with the artistic director likely to be appointed prior to the executive director.

Names expected to be in the frame for the post will include long-serving RSC associate director Gregory Doran – who narrowly missed out on the top post when Boyd was appointed – as well Rupert Goold, Michael Grandage, Jonathan Kent and Simon Russell Beale, among others.

Michael Boyd

“2011 has been our most ambitious year since I was appointed artistic director in July 2002. We have opened the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre to unusual acclaim. Our new home is already much loved by the public and critics alike and has won many major awards. It’s arguably the best theatre for the contemporary production of Shakespeare in the world. We also reopened the Swan, and quickly remembered how much we had missed our beautiful mid-scale theatre.

We celebrated the 50th birthday of the RSC with our most successful season in both theatres, at the box office, and in the press, for decades. We took our long ensemble repertoire to New York, and were hailed “the theatrical event of the New York Summer”, housed in our extraordinary travelling facsimile of the new RST that only our workshops could have built.

“We launched the World Shakespeare Festival, years in the planning, breathtaking in scope, and the lynchpin of the UK’s cultural programme to celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“Next month we open Matilda the Musical, eight years in the making, to a very strong advance at the Cambridge Theatre; together with our Stratford winter season of a thrilling, physical re-telling of the legend of Robin Hood, and a three play celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in the Swan.

“This is my tenth AGM as artistic director, and next year will be my last. I have always said that it would take ten years to make a genuine difference in the life and the soul of the company, and though ten years will not be enough to achieve all that I would like, it will be time for me to pass the challenges on to a new artistic director.

“If the RSC is in good shape now, it is in large part due to the expert, passionate and playful chairmanship of Sir Christopher Bland who today passes his challenge to Nigel Hugill, and to my chief co-conspirator Vikki Heywood. Her shrewd insight, her tremendous energy, and her robust rigour have made all our achievements possible. Our brilliant, wonderful company of every conceivable skill and discipline has made them a reality.”

Vikki Heywood

“I am immensely proud to have led the team that built arguably the finest theatre for Shakespeare in the world, which is loved by both artists and audiences. Delivering a £112.8m transformation project, which included a multi-award-winning theatre building, on time and on budget, has been one of the greatest achievements of my career.

“The word most often used by visitors to our new building is ‘welcoming’. Over 500,000 additional day visitors this year are a testament to the enduring attraction of the RSC and a vindication of our decision to open seven days a week throughout the year. I am delighted that we’ve engaged such a wide audience and universal praise in our reopening.

“Michael and I have decided to leave at the same time because that is the right decision for the company. This is a planned and slow departure with a progressive transformation to a new leadership who will take the company forward for the next decade.

“I join with Michael Boyd in praising the terrific team at the RSC and I would like to give a huge thank you to Christopher Bland who has led the company so well and been my mentor and friend.”

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