Kwame Kwei-Armah: ‘I want to mess with the idea that the UK only imports US musicals’
New Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah has claimed he wants to “mess” with the notion that the UK only imports American musicals, as he unveiled a first season that includes a new musical adaptation of Twelfth Night.
Kwei-Armah, who formerly ran Baltimore Center Stage, said Americans often say that “the US imports British plays and the British import American musicals”.
“I would like to play with that, and mess with that,” he said, adding that the UK can create “dynamic, brilliant work in that [musical] form”.
His first season at the Young Vic will open in October with a musical version of Twelfth Night, which he conceived with Shaina Taub, who has written the show’s music and lyrics.
Kwei-Armah said he wanted to open with a musical to “put out joy and love” to audiences, with an adaptation he described as “funky, fun and modern”. His season also includes The Convert by Danai Gurira and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis.
Kwei-Armah spoke about the importance of continuing to make the Young Vic open to everyone, and said that, during his time in the US, he had learned that he wanted to create work that “speaks to the widest possible audience”.
He said that at the Young Vic he would be less interested in being part of the “high arts” and more interested in being part of the popular arts scene.
“I am keen to continue the tradition of making this theatre as open as humanly possible to every demographic and to every interlocking community here in London,” he said, unveiling a new scheme in which tickets for the first preview of every main house show will be priced at £5.
Kwei-Armah also spoke of the challenges facing artistic directors in times of austerity and said theatre staff were being asked to do the jobs of two or three people for money that some people working in the City would “spend on a fancy weekend”.
He said his staff would be rewarded “with love and care”.