National Theatre chief quits after cuts warning

The National Theatre of Scotland's artistic director, Laurie Sansom, is to leave his post in the summer - after warning of the impact of budget cuts on the company.

Outgoing Artistic Director Laurie Sansom. Picture: John Devlin
Outgoing Artistic Director Laurie Sansom. Picture: John Devlin

Laurie Sansom has announced he is to leave in the midst of the company’s 10th anniversary season - just weeks after a hard-hitting appearance at Holyrood.

Mr Sansom had been spearheading fundraising efforts - backed by stars like Alan Cumming and Blythe Duff - to raise the final £1.5 million to help pay for the £6.5 million headquarters in Glasgow.

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NTS today refused to say if it would definitely be appointing a new artistic director to replace Mr Sansom, who also held the post of chief executive.

Arts consultant Lucy Mason, who previously held the same posts at The Arches in Glasgow, has been appointed chief executive by the NTS board on an interim basis.

MSPs were warned by Mr Sansom last month that NTS may have to cut back on future productions and touring commitments unless its three per cent cut was reversed.

It is understood there have been disagreements behind the scenes at NTS on how to cope with the impact of the cut.

One source said: “Laurie feels that he can only take the company so far given the financial restrictions and uncertainty.”

NTS refused to answer questions on whether Mr Sansom had tendered his resignation or been asked to leave the company, which relies on direct funding of Scottish Government funding of more than £4 million.

The company was left reeling in July when it emerged two senior members of staff, executive producer Neil Murray, and associate director Graham McLaren, had both been snapped up to run Ireland’s national theatre.

In the statement announcing his departure, Mr Sansom said he felt it was time for “new leadership” to take NTS forward.

NTS said Mr Sansom, who will be best remembered for directing The James Plays trilogy, “plans to explore ambitious directing opportunities in the UK and internationally.”

His departure had been confirmed less than six months after the company was hit with a surprise three per cent budget by the Scottish Government.

At the time NTS said it would have a “major impact” on its operations, adding: “The fact that we are not being advised of subsidy figures beyond March 2017 makes our financial planning ever more challenging.”

The Scottish Parliament’s culture committee was told by Mr Sansom on 8 March of concerns from NTS about the company’s ability to “reach into all parts of Scotland.”

He said: “I’m intensely proud to have been part of a National Theatre of Scotland which has produced such a wealth of bold and relevant theatre for audiences across a nation and across the world.

“It has been a privilege to play a part in shaping the story of an amazing first decade in the life of one of the world’s great new national theatre companies but I believe it is time for new leadership to take it into its next decade as it moves into its new creation centre.”

Dame Seona Reid, chair of the NTS board, said: “Laurie’s imprint on theatre-making in Scotland has been impactful and far-reaching.

She added: “Throughout this time, as they have done for a decade, the staff, company and wider community of creative collaborators that form the National Theatre of Scotland have delivered with passion on their mission of creating inspiring theatre experiences for, and of Scotland, for the widest range of audiences.

“Laurie is without question one of the world’s leading theatre directors. It is entirely fitting that his three years at the National Theatre of Scotland come to a close as the epic trilogy of The James Plays which he has nurtured and directed have been playing to Scottish and international audiences and to critical acclaim.

“We wish Laurie every success for the future. He is a special talent and we thank him warmly for his defining contribution to theatre-making in Scotland.”

Mr Sansom’s submission to the Scottish Parliament said: “With diminishing grant funding however, tough decisions are having to be considered going forward.

“It could be said that Scottish Government grant reductions to Creative Scotland, as well as to the National Theatre of Scotland, are therefore a ‘double-whammy,’ since without a fertile theatrical scene, the national theatre cannot but suffer.”