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Bush Theatre: Yorkshire’s Madani Younis gets the top job | reviews, news & interviews

Bush Theatre: Yorkshire’s Madani Younis gets the top job

Bush Theatre: Yorkshire’s Madani Younis gets the top job

The West London theatre appoints a director from West Yorkshire

Bush watchers — a species of theatre buff with a particular interest in the rapid changes now happening to the Bush Theatre in West London — have been waiting for several weeks to see which of the various rumours are true about who will be the venue’s new artistic director when the present chief, Josie Rourke, leaves in December. Yesterday, it was announced that the new artistic director is Madani Younis, which is both a delight and, well, a bit of a surprise.

The reason for both these emotions is that Younis — named by the Yorkshire Post as one of the county’s 100 Bright Things in 2009 — is an outsider to the rather incestuous new writing theatre scene in London. He has never directed a show at any of the main London powerhouses.

Currently, Younis is head of Freedom Studios in Bradford, Yorkshire, and his most recent work for the company was the site-specific The Mill – City of Dreams. He started his career in film, and in 2002 was made director of Red Ladder theatre company’s Asian Theatre School, staging seven productions for the company. He also got the Decibel Award at the South Bank Awards show in 2006.

The connection with the Bush has been that for the past two years Freedom Studios has collaborated with the London venue through workshops, and the Bush’s innovative on-line facility for writers, culminating in Freedom’s two-week residency at the theatre last year.

Certainly, it is a real breath of fresh air to have a British Asian artistic director of a venue which is surely going places — especially since its recent move into larger premises, as the little pub theatre moves permanently into the old library building just down the road in Shepherds Bush. But while it's great to celebrate cultural diversity, the appointment of Younis might also raise eyebrows in some corners of the new writing scene.

Until a few years ago, say 2007 (at about the time when Rourke arrived at the Bush), the British new writing scene had a relatively simple structure: six big-name theatres which specialised only in new writing, in finding, developing and staging new and often young writers. Their names are the Royal Court, the Bush, the Soho, the Hampstead and, outside London, Live Theatre in Newcastle and the Traverse in Edinburgh.

This system was led by artistic directors such as Stephen Daldry (didn’t he do well?) and Ian Rickson at the Royal Court, and usually relied on the offices of literary managers to find and develop new plays. But winds of change began to sweep through it when Rourke arrived at the Bush and promptly dispensed with her literary manager. Then, instead of just staging new plays, she began to experiment with changing the theatre space and putting on site-specific ventures. In this, she seems to have been ahead of the game.

For soon other new writing theatres, such as the Hampstead and the Soho, also started making radical changes, this time to their programming. Instead of merely staging new plays, these venues — under new artistic directors Edward Hall and Steve Marmion — have chosen to explore the bigger issue of theatricality, fielding mixed seasons of new plays and revivals, with old shows (such as the all-male Shakespeare shows at the Hampstead) rubbing up against new plays by young writers, mature writers and even old writers.

In terms of what happens on stage, the results have been exciting and suggest that if Younis at the Bush also abandons the strict definition of his venue as a new writing theatre then we might be in for some real treats at his new space. It is certainly an exciting prospect that the new venue, which will be staging the ambitious 24-hour cycle of biblical plays, Sixty-Six Books, in October, will have both a new building and a new head. Younis signs in for work on 1 January 2012, and Rourke moves to the Donmar Warehouse. Let’s wish them both luck.

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