The British director with a string of international hits will succeed Andrew Upton from 2016.
Sydney Theatre Company has appointed Jonathan Church as its new Artistic Director to succeed Andrew Upton from 2016. The 48-year-old transformational British powerhouse, with an address book that must read like a who’s who of the theatrical great and the good, is outgoing Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre where he has produced a string of hits that have travelled the globe since he took over in 2006. He was considered by many as a likely candidate to take over from Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre, a job that eventually went to Rufus Norris.
Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood in Chichester’s Macbeth
Shows like Rupert Goold’s award-winning production of Lucy Prebble’s play Enron, David Hare’s The Judas Kiss, which starred Rupert Everett and was directed by Neil Armfield, and a ‘Stalinist’ Macbeth with Patrick Stewart have been resounding box-office successes in the UK and on Broadway. Church is also a keen musical theatre fan, as shown most notably in an acclaimed Sweeney Todd with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. The latter has gone on to star in the current West End hit production of Styne and Sondheim’s Gypsy. Meanwhile, audience’s who missed Church’s production of The Last Confession with David Suchet in 2014 will get a chance to judge his work when staging of Singin’ in the Rain with Adam Garcia tours Australia next year.
Imelda Staunton in Chichester’s Gypsy
“I am delighted and honoured to be the next Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company and alongside Executive Director Patrick McIntyre look forward to leading the company through its next phase of development,” said Church on his appointment. “I have watched from afar STC’s growth over the past 30 years and the company has become a beacon of artistic adventure and international excellence. Recently I have also been fortunate enough to begin to work first hand with some of Australia’s best theatre practitioners and I have a strong sense of the extraordinary talent that exists and the deep sense of commitment to the theatre and the arts in general that a wide range of companies have fostered in Australia.”
Over the last ten years, Church has more than doubled the Chichester audience and the diverse programme of over 100 productions has included 22 new plays. A remarkable 50 of their shows have transferred to either the West End or Broadway. He has also proved a dab hand at fund raising, overseeing the $46M redevelopment of Laurence Olivier’s once state of the art 1960’s pre-National Theatre built on England’s south coast. “The mixture’s always important,” Church told the Guardian a few years back with regards to programming. “I go back to Olivier. He said, ‘You choose three for the audience and one for yourself.’ That’s not a bad recipe, is it? As artistic director you have to both deliver what the audience think they want but also show them what you think they should aspire to.” In June he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to the Festival Theatre.
STC will be hoping that their new AD continues the track record of his predecessors, Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, who steered the company over the past eight years and produced a string of international transfers including acclaimed stagings of Uncle Vanya, The Maids and Waiting for Godot. “I think Jonathan Church is a terrific choice as the next Artistic Director of STC,” said STC’s current Artistic Director Andrew Upton. “After a period being led by an actress and a writer, I think it’s important to have a theatre director once more at the helm. I look forward to fresh perspectives on the international theatre canon and a continuation of STC’s championing of local theatre makers and stories, including on the international stage.”
Adam Cooper in Church’s production of Singin’ in the Rain
While a number of Aussie festival leadership roles have recently changed hands from international to home-grown, this is the first major theatre position to go to an overseas candidate in quite some time. “After a comprehensive international search, the board was presented with a very accomplished shortlist of Australian and overseas candidates,” said David Gonski, Chairman of Sydney Theatre Company on announcing the appointment. “We are extremely confident that Jonathan Church’s tremendous breadth of experience across the course of his career is a brilliant fit for STC. Jonathan is both an acclaimed theatre director in his own right, and also an artistic director with an extremely impressive track record in establishing positive relationships with a broad range of top theatre artists… I know that he will build on the excellent work of Andrew Upton who has been Artistic Director for the last eight years, the first five alongside Cate Blanchett”.
Starting out as an electrician and stage manager, Church has worked his way up in the business. “I’m a theatre lover who comes from a practical background,” he once said. “I left school at 18, so perhaps my taste is closer to theatre-going audiences’ tastes than some people. I grew up watching proper regional theatres engaging with their audiences. So maybe I was well-positioned to remember what it was that made them work.” He ran the previously moribund Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 2001 to 2005 and the formerly defunct Salisbury Playhouse from 1995 to 1999. A married father of four, he will commence work on programming STC’s 2017 season immediately, though he will divide his time between the UK and Sydney until September 2016 as he has a final Festival season to deliver in Chichester.
Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball in Chichester’s Sweeney Todd