As the glamour of Kevin Spacey’s tenure in charge of The Old Vic theatre draws to a close, he is to hand the baton not to another star but to the acclaimed director of Matilda the Musical, whose job is to “put the work on stage up in lights”.
Matthew Warchus is to replace the Hollywood actor as artistic director of one of London’s oldest theatres in autumn next year, it was announced today. Spacey was hailed as The Old Vic’s saviour when he was appointed in 2004 and brought the international spotlight onto the venue.
Nick Clarry, chairman of The Old Vic Theatre Trust, said: “For the next 10 years, we want the work on stage to be the star. We want amazing work with fantastic actors and actresses to be our hallmark.”
As well as overseeing the artistic direction of the theatre, during Mr Warchus’ reign, the Trust hopes to establish an endowment fund to secure the finances of the venue and then redevelop the historic building towards the end of the decade.
Candidates linked with the role included Sir Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance but neither was on the eight-strong shortlist. The search committee started in January and put together a list that did not include a single actor.
Mr Clarry said: “We considered whether to follow Kevin with another actor, but we decided in the end to go for a proven artistic director first and foremost.”
He pointed out that Mr Warchus was one of the most connected directors in theatreland, and would continue to attract the “top talent".
"He’s really known for the quality and standards he works to," he said.
The 47-year-old director, who has been behind 70 productions in London and Broadway including Art, Ghost the Musical and Matilda, will start working with the theatre later this year in preparation for his first season in autumn 2015.
Mark Rubinstein, president of the Society of London Theatre, said: “Matthew is one of the strongest, most exciting directors we have."
In putting himself forward as a candidate, Mr Warchus said what he likes to do is “make the popular more artistic and the artistic more popular”.
Spacey said he “couldn’t be happier” that Warchus was to take the reins. “Matthew is a thoughtful, intuitive and highly creative director and he has rightly been applauded for his work.”
Terri Paddock, a theatre industry expert, said: “It is a fantastic appointment. Matthew Warchus is a brilliant director and had so many great hits to his name on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet he’s never run a theatre and every time a major vacancy comes up he’s on the wishlist.”
The Old Vic “is a perfect fit for him and his experience,” she added. “It seems his time has very much come.” Mr Warchus has worked with The Old Vic for over a decade and was tipped to take over before Spacey was appointed.
The director started his career at the Bristol Old Vic. He made his West End debut aged 26, and four years later hit big with the production of Art by Yasmina Reza. He is currently in Cannes with his film Pride, about gay activists who supported the miner’s strike.
He is currently an artistic associate at The Old Vic and directed some notable productions at the venue including Alan Ayckbourn trilogy The Norman Conquests, and Speed-the-Plow which starred Spacey.
“We will see the theatre go in a different artistic direction,” Ms Paddock said. “He has incredible creative nous, and the work he’s done to date is so varied. He’s directed things in every kind of scale.”
She added he was “modest and quite, but he has incredible integrity and steely determination. He knows how to get the best out of actors; he’s great in the rehearsal room and incredibly well respected.