After five years at the helm of the Gate Theatre, the moment has finally come for me to announce my final season as Artistic Director. The bittersweetness of this can’t be overstated. This building has been the most wonderful and inspiring home to me, and my time here has, without doubt, been one of the happiest periods of my life.
Inevitably, as I have been considering which shows to sign out with, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the work we have made over the years. So, it is not surprising that the three plays in this new season embody so much of what, I hope, the Gate has always stood for: politically radical ideas communicated through gripping stories told by exceptional emerging artists. At the heart of the season lie two shows: The Convert by Danai Gurira which I will direct, and a new Gate commission: Assata Taught Me by Kalungi Ssebandeke which will be directed by our current Associate Director, Lynette Linton.
I am so thrilled to be welcoming Danai back after the huge success we had with Eclipsed. This new play, making its European Premiere, tells the story of a young woman growing up in Rhodesia in the late 19th Century. It’s a profoundly moving, smart and unsparing look at our colonial past and the impact that the British Empire had on so much of Africa. As you would expect from her writing, it is packed with complicated and compelling characters, and brings an acute eye to issues that remain vitally relevant decades after the British Empire came to an end.
Kalungi Ssebandeke is also making his return to the Gate, following his fantastic performance in our award-winning production Image of An Unknown Young Woman. Now he joins us as a playwright with a story inspired by Assata Shakur – a former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army activist and the FBI’s most wanted woman. Shakur now lives in exile in Cuba and Ssebandeke’s play imagines an encounter between her and a young black Cuban called Fanuco. The play explores fundamental issues of how we try to change the societies within which we live and how people who are born in to extreme circumstances can begin to try and reinvent their own lives for the better. It is a personal and passionate bit of writing and will be given a fine production by Lynette Linton – one of the most exciting and promising young directors I have come across in my time here.
Finally I am thrilled to welcome two more old friends back to the Gate: firstly the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama will take up residency for a week in April to showcase the talents of their latest crop of graduates.
Secondly, in March, we will revive the show that, more than any, has come to define my time here: George Brant’s Grounded. Performed by the magnificent Lucy Ellinson, this high octane story of the life of a drone pilot takes an unflinching look at how modern warfare is fought. Our production has already toured to the US, Europe and around the whole of the UK and so it seems only right that it will have one more chance to fly in our little room in Notting Hill.
This series of plays about rebellion and revolution is called: Resist! This was the title I gave my first ever season and it demonstrates that our key commitment to changing the world has remained constant. Indeed, I have no doubt that once I have moved on to other things, the Gate, and the extraordinary people who work here, will continue to agitate for a better world for many years to come.