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Obituary: Nicola Thorold

Administrator Nicola Thorold, 67. Photo: Tom Medwell

As a widely respected producer and administrator, Nicola Thorold straddled the creative and financial sides of theatre with an ease that belied her passionate commitment to creating new work and to raising the working conditions of theatre workers.

Formerly a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley International, she found her first foothold in the creative sector at Arts Council England in 1989. Four years later, she was appointed director of the Independent Theatre Council and quickly established herself as a fervent champion for the sector, spearheading one campaign after another as government spending on the arts seemed to be in a downward spiral in the second half of the decade.

No poacher-turned-gamekeeper managed to occupy both roles to such similar ends as Thorold did when she became head of theatre with Arts Council England in 2000. Having been a recent vociferous critic of change in ACE’s stewardship of the arts, she set about creating new structures and initiatives that were intended to offer ballast and support to client companies while strengthening and refocusing the council’s own operations.

Notable achievements were the creation of the Business and Finance Assessment Unit, the launch of the Cultural Leadership programme and formulating ACE’s response to the controversial Boyden Report on regional repertory theatre with a clarion-call promise to “restore confidence among practitioners.”

When a disastrous internal restructuring of ACE in 2006 provoked what alarmed onlookers described as a “talent drain” from the organisation, Thorold was one of the first to announce her departure.

Freed from corporate constraints, she acted as a consultant on several national cultural strategies and began to renew her involvement with production, becoming an associate producer with the Young Vic and the National Theatre’s NT Future, its £80 million refurbishment plan.

In 2009 she led Arts Council England’s response to the Future Jobs Fund and supported Brian McMaster with his report on excellence in the arts. The same year she was a co-founder and joint director of World Stages London, the initiative created by a consortium of eight leading theatres in the capital and led by the Young Vic to showcase the international and multicultural nature of UK theatre during the 2012 London Olympics.

In June the same year, having served as a consultant to the Roundhouse since 2008, she became its executive producer following the end of her duties to the sporting extravaganza.

She was a leading light in What Next?, which she co-founded with David Lan and which sought to encourage collaboration between arts and cultural organisations across the UK. She also sat on several boards, including those of Cheek by Jowl, the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme and the Creative Society, an arts employment charity helping young people into jobs in creative and cultural industries.

In June this year she was appointed a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours.

Nicola Thorold was born in London on May 11, 1965 and died on June 3, aged 51. She is survived by her husband and two children.

Bristol Old Vic artistic director Tom Morris writes: Nicola Thorold was a hugely influential figure in the arts in her own right, but perhaps her most outstanding quality was her generosity. Put simply, she looked after people. She looked after me as I was making the scary step from the National Theatre to the Bristol Old Vic, giving her time, her patience, her kind ear and her brilliant mind during a series of breakfasts at her home in Kennington. It was an entirely informal thing. She did it simply because she thought it was right and helpful. Our industry is sustained by skill and generosity of this kind but very few are as gifted in both areas as Nicola was. Hundreds have benefited from her support. Nicola’s legacy is a living one and industry-wide not only in her own successes but in the successes of the many, many people she has helped in this way.

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