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Birmingham Rep’s Artistic Director Sean Foley to depart role

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Birmingham Rep’s Artistic Director Sean Foley to depart role

Birmingham Rep announced today that Sean Foley will step down as Artistic Director this summer following his forthcoming production of Withnail and I.

 Speaking about his decision, double Olivier-Award-winning, Foley said:

“It has been an honour to be the Artistic Director of this magnificent and historic theatre over the past 5 years. I will be stepping down over the Summer, with Withnail and I being the last production I direct as Artistic Director, and the programme will continue through into the Autumn and beyond with the wonderful new musical Becoming Nancy, and – a particular delight – the as yet to be announced main stage debut of Associate Director, Madeleine Kludje.”

Sean became Artistic Director in May 2019.  During his tenure The Rep has undergone a re-brand, gained stylish new foyers, and celebrated its 50th Anniversary in its Centenary Square home; it became Birmingham’s first Theatre of Sanctuary, and declared Climate Emergency.

The main house re-opened after the pandemic with the 25th Anniversary production of East is East, which subsequently re-opened the Lyttleton at the National Theatre.  Baroness Floella Benjamin joined as Patron of Youth and Education, and The Rep co-produced the world premiere stage adaptation of her autobiography Coming to England.

Sean directed the 20th anniversary production of The Play What I Wrote, guest starring Tom Hiddleston, and subsequently co-wrote and directed Spitting Image The Musical which joined The Rep’s co-production of Ian Hallard’s The Way Old Friends Do in transferring to the West End.

“That The Rep has consistently been able to deliver a truly ambitious programme of artistically credible popular theatre across its 3 auditoria – even through the multiple challenges of the past years – is testament to the tenacity, talent, and commitment of the extraordinary staff team here.” Sean Foley notes, adding, “My decision was made before the announcement of the City Council cuts to the Arts budgets, and is unrelated to them: I know that this staff team will rise to this latest challenge… The ambition we have shown in my time here has seen audiences come back to The Rep at greater levels than before the pandemic, with audiences growing by a further 20% in the year.

“I’m especially proud that 2023 has a claim to be one of the very best years in The Rep’s extraordinary history, with 3 world premieres, 2 West End transfers, international work, multiple award nominations, our largest youth and community festival ever, and being shortlisted for The Stage’s Theatre of the Year. Above all, we have given people some great nights out…”

Sean’s other work included over 15 world and UK premieres in the past 2 and a half years, including the new musical What’s New Pussy Cat?, Casey Bailey’s, Grimeboy, and the recent Bhangra Nation; the only English staging of the internationally acclaimed Australian epic Counting and Cracking; an award-winning new production of Of Mice and Men – the first major production to have a learning disabled actor play the part of Lennie;  and bringing Broadway to Birmingham with the world premiere of Sinatra The Musical.

Two of the Rep’s major productions were filmed for the BBC, including Tartuffe, and The Park Bench Plays were filmed by Sky Arts. Off stage, he has launched the Victoria Wood Playwriting Prize for Comedy, The Rep’s new £25,000 playwriting award, and Sky Comedy Rep, an innovative mentorship and bursary scheme which supported 16 new writers to the production of their first short plays.

Sean Foley, Artistic Director, Birmingham Rep:

“I’m deeply proud that the vision of investing anew in The Rep as a major producing theatre has come to fruition. It has enabled The Rep to find exciting new partners across its range of work: working with the very finest, world class, producing partners and creative teams; creating new talent development initiatives in comic theatre, community theatre, and playwriting: and being ever more ambitious in the range and diversity of the work on all our stages.

“As a consequence, we have employed more freelancers, commissioned more work, and welcomed whole new audiences to the theatre – over fifty per cent of whom were new to The Rep, and many were new to the theatre going experience itself.  Above all it has meant that we have been able to kindle and widen local, national, and international relationships to The Rep in ways both joyful and, I hope, lasting. The Rep is an incredible theatre in a truly great City, and it has been a great privilege to have been able to work alongside everyone connected with it.”

Ayub Khan MBE, Interim Chair of the Board of Trustees also added: “Over the past 5 years, Sean has led the Rep Artistically with great talent, formidable determination, and a wide-ranging vision. The programme he has delivered has consistently increased audiences, met its financial targets, brought world class talent to work here, and brought extraordinary National and International work of the highest calibre to the theatre – all of which has created genuine excitement around The Rep as a major producer, and contributed significantly to cultural placemaking in Birmingham.

“This, combined with successful new talent initiatives like Sky Comedy Rep – which has given access into the industry for many new voices – has meant that The Rep has truly grown as a theatre under his artistic stewardship. From the challenges of the pandemic, through to the risks of re-opening, and the past years of real achievements, his consistent focus on excellence has meant that The Rep now means more to more people, both in the City and wider afield. We wish him well with whatever he does next.”

Sean’s final show as Artistic Director at The Rep, Withnail and I, opens on Friday 3 May and plays until Saturday 25 May.  Recruitment for new artistic leadership will begin later this month.

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