Vicky Featherstone to step down as artistic director of Royal Court

The artistic director of the Royal Court, one of London’s most prestigious theatres, is stepping down after 10 years in the job.

Vicky Featherstone, who has nurtured hundreds of emerging and established writers in her time at the Royal Court, will leave later this year. Having set herself a 10-year time limit when she took the job, she said it was time to “hand over the guardianship of this extraordinary, enduring mission to someone else”.

Featherstone is the latest high-profile figure to leave a major theatre in recent months. Last week, Michael Longhurst announced he would step down as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in 2024 after five years in the post.

In December, Roxana Silbert quit as the Hampstead theatre’s artistic director because of the financial constraints it is facing after Arts Council England’s decision not to renew its £766,455 annual grant.

In September, Daniel Evans said he would step down as artistic director of the Chichester Festival theatre to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Featherstone said: “Being artistic director of the Royal Court is one of best jobs in the world – creating something over 10 years with the most dedicated, passionate and thoughtful people throughout every single area of the organisation – from stage door to the board and the donors – with the actors, other artists and freelancers who bring all of themselves to make incredible plays happen, and of course having the ultimate privilege of being in daily conversations with visionary, transformational writers.

“I would do it for ever if I could. And although I am usually the last one to leave the party, it’s time for me to hand over the guardianship of this extraordinary, enduring mission to someone else.

“When I started this job in 2013 I set myself a time limit of 10 years, and I am holding myself to that. There are no words for how life-changing, challenging, invigorating and complex this job is, and like everyone who has ever done this role here, it is for ever part of my DNA.”

She said she had “no concrete plans as to what I will do next. Top of the list is to make an appointment at the dentist. Basically I’m releasing myself back into the wild.”

Featherstone will remain in her post until a new artistic director is appointed. She said she hoped the vacancy created by her departure would set “fires alight in the bellies of those who can create the future for theatre”.

When she was appointed artistic director in 2013, Featherstone launched Open Court, a six-week festival that included 133 performances and more than 40 new plays.

Since then, the theatre has supported more than 600 writers through its writer development programmes and groups. Among those who have written plays during Featherstone’s tenure are Abi Morgan, Caryl Churchill, Gary Owen and Zinnie Harris.

Anthony Burton, the chair of the Royal Court Theatre, said Featherstone was a “tireless leader of the Royal Court for 10 years, brilliantly navigating turbulent times not least keeping the Court afloat for two years during Covid.

“She has been an innovator and champion of many initiatives such as the ‘Me Too’ movement in the theatre. We are hugely grateful to Vicky for her invaluable and profound contribution to the work, welfare, and financial stability of the Court.”

In 2018, she topped the Stage 100 list of the most influential people in the theatre world for her “brave” and “enlightened” leadership in the face of allegations around harassment and abuses of power in the theatre industry.

In 2021, the theatre was embroiled in an antisemitism row after a play’s lead character, a predatory billionaire, was given the name Hershel Fink, even though he was not Jewish. Accused of an antisemitic trope, the Royal Court admitted unconscious bias and apologised.

According to its website, the Royal Court receives less than half of its annual income from Arts Council England. The rest comes from ticket sales, commercial activities and fundraising.