After announcing she was stepping down as artistic director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Rachel Kavanaugh talks to Diane Parkes about her plans.
After four years at the helm of Birmingham Rep, Rachel Kavanaugh is to step down in March to concentrate her energies on her family.
The 41-year-old artistic director revealed she is expecting her second baby in May and feels the time is right to step back from the theatre.
The news comes just three weeks before the theatre is to close for two years as it undergoes a major renovation project.
But Rachel, who has headed the theatre for four years, believes she is leaving the Rep’s legacy in safe hands.
“I am leaving totally for personal reasons as I am having another baby and I just feel I need a bit more time with my family,” she said.
“I want to keep on directing plays and to do that at the same time as running the theatre and having another baby could be too much.”
But Rachel, who is already mother to 19-month-old Joseph, is hoping to continue working with the theatre in the future.
“I really hope that I can do some directing for the theatre as it is very close to my heart. I have been associated with it since I was 18 when Kenneth Branagh’s brought his Renaissance company here.
Then I directed The Lady in the Van in 2002, I was an associate director with Jonathan Church in 2003 and I became artistic director in 2006 so I feel it has been a big, big part of my life.
“I feel very sad to be leaving.”
Rachel’s four years have seen some landmark productions at the theatre as well as some big names on stage including Felicity Kendal, Maureen Lipman, Wayne Sleep and Black Country actress Josie Lawrence.
“It is really hard to pick out highlights from four years,” said Rachel. “But I would say probably directing the premiere of Arthur and George and being the first theatre outside London to stage Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials would be among them.”
And she says it is too early to say who could replace her or when.
“I just can’t say anything on that yet,” she said. ‘‘But we do have all of next year programmed and when I took over there was a break between Jonathan and I.”
When the curtain comes down on the Christmas show The Secret Garden in January The Rep is going on the road, taking its shows to venues across the city including the Alexandra Theatre, MAC, The Old Rep and the A E Harris Building in Hockley.
And the new repertoire features classics such as The Importance of Being Earnest, the musical The Wiz and new drama including Ostrich Boys and Notes to Future Self.
“One of the challenges we faced was how to cover the variety and diversity which marks The Rep in fewer pieces,” said Rachel.
“But I feel we have achieved that with family shows, new drama and shows of different scale. We started planning the venues a long time ago and were then able to marry up our shows with the venues. So, for example, we have two shows in rep at our former home The Old Rep and we have a family musical at the Alex.
“But it is very important that they are still Rep shows.
‘‘So with The Wiz it is very much our production. We have eight professional actors and then it is a huge community project which will see local people as an integral part of the production. It is very important that we keep our identity and our brand.”
And the move also provides great opportunities.
"One of the great opportunities is that it allows us to build on our middle scale work which is something we have never really been able to do at The Rep because of the size of the Door and the main house,” says Rachel.
“But venues like the Old Rep, the Crescent and, to a certain extent, mac will allows us to do that.
“So as a company this year will allow us to change, develop and adapt.”
Creating mid scale work is important for the Rep as the redevelopment will see the opening of a new 300-seat theatre to be shared with Birmingham Library.
“I would expect a company like the Rep to have changed by the time it goes back to its building and that is a good thing,” Rachel said.
“This time can be used for reflection and for development.
“And then we will see the Rep enter into a third stage of its history. It has had an extraordinary history, starting at the Old Rep and then moving into the new building at Centenary Square.
“I would hope this new era would keep all that is wonderful about the Rep but also build on it into the future.”
In the meantime, it may be just days before Christmas, but Rachel is hard at work in London auditioning for the last play she will direct for the Rep as its artistic director, Notes to Future Self which will be performed at mac in March.
“This is a play which the Rep has commissioned from a really exciting Irish writer called Lucy Caldwell,” she said.
“It is the story of a family who have to come back to Birmingham, to Kings Heath, when one of their daughters is diagnosed with cancer.
‘‘And they have to cope not just with their daughter’s illness but also with being back with the rest of their family,’’ she said. ‘‘It is a sad story but it is also very funny and touching.”