Photograph: Wendy Booth/Alamy
The Hampstead theatre, which has nurtured emerging playwrights including Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh and Hanif Kureishi over its 60-year history, is set to ‘change direction’ after the Arts Council cut its funding to zero on last month.
Roxana Silbert has left as artistic director of the north London theater due to financial constraints she is facing following Arts Council England’s decision not to renew its £766,455 annual grant.
The Hampstead Theater was a number of London arts institutions that were cut funding by 100% as the Arts Council sought to fulfill a government instruction to channel more public money out of the capital. They include the Donmar Warehouse, the Barbican Center and the Gate Theatre. English National Opera also had its funds withdrawn, but grants were offered to finance a move from London to the north of England.
The Hampstead Theater said that, in light of the cut, it “will need to change direction and can no longer continue as just a new writing theatre”. Silbert had decided to resign “consequently”. The theater added: “It is tragic that a leading writers’ theatre, having launched so many careers over the years and created plays which have been enjoyed throughout the UK, should be treated so summarily.”
The theater began life in 1959 as the Hampstead Theater Club, operating out of a north London hall before moving in 1962 to a small studio in Swiss Cottage, where it remained for 40 years. He has developed and produced the work of new and emerging writers such as Michael Frayn, Brian Friel, Abi Morgan and Debbie Tucker Green as well as Pinter, Leigh and Kureishi.
Producing plays by new writers carries more risk for theaters than established plays that are sure to attract audiences. In addition to its main stage, the Hampstead Theater has a more intimate studio space, which its website says: “is totally engaged in new writing. His program is an opportunity for Hampstead to continue to innovate and build on its outstanding foundation as a place for new talent to blossom.”
He declined to give more details about his change in direction, saying only that Greg Ripley-Duggan, the theater’s executive producer, would be responsible for “transitioning to a new model.”
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Silbert said his decision to quit was not an easy one. “Due to well-documented financial constraints, and after careful consideration, it seems appropriate to me to step down… Hampstead will need to recalibrate and change to move forward and I wish him every success.”
Irene Dorner, president of the Hampstead Theatre, said Silbert has been “an inspirational leader to Hampstead and has directed some truly wonderful productions on both of our stages. As part of our new strategy, we are confident that she will often be able to return to Hampstead as a visiting director.”
The theater had been “devastated” by the cut to the concession, he added.