Traverse Theatre unveils new leadership line-up for 'pivotal' era ahead of 60th anniversary

The Traverse Theatre will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023.
The Traverse Theatre will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023.
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Ken Loach’s long-time producer and one of Scotland’s leading playwrights have agreed to help steer Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre towards its 60th anniversary – under a shake-up which will see it have two artistic directors and an ambition to reach “new eyes and ears in audiences.”

Rebecca O’Brien, whose film credits include My Name Is Joe, Sweet Sixteen, The Angels’ Share and I, Daniel Blake, has joined the board of the theatre, which is dedicated to showcasing new writing.

BAFTA-winning film producer Rebecca O'Brien has worked with director Ken Loach since Hidden Agenda in 1990.

BAFTA-winning film producer Rebecca O'Brien has worked with director Ken Loach since Hidden Agenda in 1990.

Kieran Hurley, the Edinburgh-born playwright of the recent Traverse thriller Mouthpiece and the recent rave culture movie Beats, and Bryony Shanahan, joint artistic director of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre have also been brought on board.

A wide-ranging review of the Traverse over the last year will also see it search for new members to advise the theatre on “artistic and audience diversity “ at what is described as a “pivotal moment” in its history.

The new era will be led by Yorkshireman Gareth Nicholls, who was appointed interim assistant director a year ago and steered hit shows Ulster American, and Debbie Hannan, the Edinburgh-born theatre director who was at the helm of the recent stage adaptation of the novel The Panopticon at the Traverse and is currently associate director of The Bunker Theatre in London.

Read more: Theatre interview: Gareth Nicholls on moving to the Traverse

Gareth Nicholls was appointed interim artistic director of the Traverse a year who while a review of its organisational future was carried out.

Gareth Nicholls was appointed interim artistic director of the Traverse a year who while a review of its organisational future was carried out.

In addition to the two artistic directors, Lesley Anne Rose will combine a new role of creative development director at the Traverse with her work as an “embedded artist” with environmental bodies Creative Carbon Scotland and Climate Ready Clyde. She was previously head of artistic development at Aberdeen Performing Arts, who run His Majesty's Theatre, the Music Hall and the Lemon Tree.

Read more: Ones to watch in 2019: Debbie Hannan, director

The Traverse, which began life in 1963 as a theatre club in an abandoned brothel in the Lawnmarket, has been based in a purpose-built home on Cambridge Street since 1992.

Richard Wilson, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Tilda Swinton, Ashley Jensen, Bill Paterson and Alan Cumming have all appeared in its shows.

The Traverse, who has produced four world premieres in the last 12 months, has enjoyed huge success in recent years with shows that have gone on to tour around the UK and internationally, including Ulster American, Mouthpiece, Crocodile Fever and What Girls Are Made Of.

Sir John Elvidge, chair of the Traverse board, said: “This is an important and extremely exciting moment for the Traverse, as it moves forward with a more dynamic and sustainable business model to better realise its vision to deliver excellent and challenging work to audiences at home and across the world.”

Executive producer Linda Crooks said: “Gareth, Debbie and Lesley Anne will join a passionate, talented and driven team and help propel us into the next phase of our evolution, representing new voices and stories on stage and reaching new eyes and ears in audiences.

"We look forward to the innovative, important and entertaining work we know they will discover, develop and present with the other members of the artistic and producing team.”

Nicholls said: "“It’s a thrilling time to be at the Traverse and I’m honored to be continuing my work here alongside Debbie, Lesley Anne and the rest of the brilliant team at the Traverse.

"Scotland is blessed with an abundance of passionate writers telling vital stories and I’m looking forward to working with them to create entertaining, dynamic and ambitious new work that places audiences at their heart. I can’t wait to get started."

Hannan said: "The Traverse’s adventurous and inherently democratic mission to deliver new stories and expand their audiences encourages a widening where the world is currently narrowing.

"It is rooted in the kind of radicalism that Scotland does best – bold, brilliant, inclusive, in a voice of our own.

"I first came to the Traverse as a local kid on a school trip, and heard working-class characters speaking in my accent on stage for the first time.

"I knew then that my voice was valid, that the stage wasn’t an exclusive space. We will bring this experience to a whole new range of people, as we go beyond the building to expand who tells and experiences our stories."

Rose added: “It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be joining the Traverse at such a pivotal and exciting time for the organisation.

"The Traverse offered me my first job in Scottish theatre when I moved here 10 years ago and forms an important and formative part of my past.

"I look forward to being part of its future and discovering the as yet unknown voices and untold stories which will be brought to vibrant life on its Edinburgh stages and far beyond."