The Leaving of Liverpool

No not the track made famous by the Dubliners (and no that’s not the Dubliners below), and no I’m not going to California….

I can clearly remember sitting in the auditorium of Unity as the incoming Artistic Director, watching the technical rehearsals of Rumplestilsken.  Three years later, no not just 3 years later, after 3 AMAZING years  I’m really sad to be leaving Unity, as was announced recently.

As some of you will know personal reasons have forced me to split my time between Liverpool and Wivenhoe (in Essex). It’s not been ideal, and after 3 years (and an estimated 1,000 cups of train coffee, and some 100,000 train miles) I’ve made the really difficult decision to leave.

It has been a privilege to lead this incredible and vital theatre during a particularly exciting period of its history. I’m proud of so much that has happened on and off our stages – from Nina (probably the biggest show we have ever staged) to our capital programme Build Unity Better, from seeing Splatts take off again – to all the exciting developments we’ve seen with our very special seasonal show partnership with Action Transport.

We’ve been a key partner in birthing some very special shows happen – from Molly Davies Chicken (with Eastern Angles in association with Paines Plough) to Lampedusa (with Soho and HighTide) via Bardolph’s Box (with Up the Road Theatre Company), from 20 Stories High brilliant Broke n Beat collective to Tmesis’ hilarious and heartwarming Happy Hour. Then there’s been the moments to experiment – I’m thinking here of Pentecost , our Play Space in Stanley Buildings which gave vital creation and rehearsal space to so many artists and companies and to projects like Hack Stage and Liverpool Theatre Live.

And hey who’d have thought that this Christmas you can see a Unity show here in Liverpool (the Jungle Book), in Stockholm’s National Theatre (Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone), in Manchester and in Kendal (Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf).  Unity really is Liverpool’s small theatre which punches way beyond its weight.

Along the way I’ve had the joy of working alongside some brilliant and talented people – artists, staff, trustees, funders and partners – here in Liverpool and further afield. I’ll particularly miss Unity’s nurturing role for new and often alternative work (just one example…..as I write this the brilliant Tooth and Nail are just about to set off on a House tour in the South East).

I’ll miss Liverpool and Hope Street. I’ve loved working in a city which truly believes in art and culture and which has the level of openness and partnership we have here, a city where good ideas are encouraged, nurtured and enabled. A city that is wonderfully both bonkers and brilliant.

And Hope Street – (those of you who know me will know what’s coming next) …  Hope Street has inspired me every time I walked into work. Where else can you work on a street bookended by two cathedrals, hosting four major arts organisations, three brilliant universities and a host of creative independent businesses?.  So many ideas and possibilities have been born in snatched mini meetings or after hours conversations on Hope Street.  It’s a well named street. A truly great street.

But as one door closes another one opens.  I am excited to be returning to the East of England (as a Yorkshire man that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), taking a breather, doing some travelling and getting my teeth into a range of new and exciting projects .  I’ll be continuing to work on our Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone­ project for Unity as the show goes out on tour in Spring 2018 with further possibilities starting to emerge.  And in the pipe line there are some very exciting plans afoot with Phrased & Confused – the spoken word CIC where I am a co-director. I’m delighted to have been invited onto the board of Mercury Theatre, Colchester which is going from strength to strength right now (and is launching its own incredibly ambitious capital project).  I’m excited too to be taking studio space, with the hub, in Colchester’s creative heart – 37 Queen Street run by SPACE, which was founded by artists Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley and Peter Townsend in 1968

Of course I’ll be watching with fondness the further development of the Unity in years to come…and as the song goes ‘I know I’ll return some day’ …sooner rather than later!  And of course I’m not gone yet – and there is still much to do before I do!!

The official statement is here.

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