Doncaster's Cast theatre boss lands top new job in Wales

Cast boss Kully Thiarai
Cast boss Kully Thiarai

The boss of Doncaster's Cast theatre has landed a new top job in Wales.

Kully Thiarai, the founding artistic director of Cast, has today been named as the new artistic director and Chief Executive of National Theatre Wales, the country's English-language national theatre.

He appointment follows John McGrath’s departure to run the Manchester International Festival.

Kully has been credited with putting Doncaster firmly on the UK’s cultural map since the £22 million venue opened in 2013, drawing over 200,000 people through its doors since opening.

A spokesman said: "Under Kully's leadership Cast has become a distinctive name in the arts both regionally and nationally. Before the venue's opening, Doncaster came seventh from bottom in a national survey measuring people's engagement with the arts.

"The flagship development - in a town characterised by a low 'arts appetite' - has proven that with the right mix of high quality work and a genuine connection to people and place, even the most unlikely of candidates can become cultural hotspots."

In her time as director Kully has made a number of achievements including directing new work for the venue, such as a sell-out run of Barry Hines' Kes - with special permission to adapt the South Yorkshire story for a Doncaster audience as well as creating a new brand of pantomime for the town with three productions being seen by almost 60,000 people in total;

She has also managed to ensure high profile companies are a mainstay of the venue's artistic programme - from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing free concerts for 1,200 school children, to Northern Ballet premiering their new work in the space.

The venue has worked with Roundhouse, London to deliver contemporary circus and engage with LGBTQ performers and young people; has hosted work from leading producing houses across the region including Hull Truck, Theatre Royal Wakefield and John Godber Company, and further afield from Derby Theatres, Oldham Coliseum and in collaboration with Dance Touring Partnership has seen international companies take to the stage including Wim Vandekeybus, Nobulus and Boy Blue.

Before her time at Cast, Kully already had an impressive background leading some of the UK’s best-loved theatre venues and producing companies, including Contact Theatre in Manchester, Leicester Haymarket Theatre, Theatre Writing Partnership Nottingham, and Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds.

She said: “I am thrilled to be joining National Theatre Wales. I have been hugely inspired by the range and diversity of work that has taken place over the last five years under John McGrath’s leadership. A wonderful artistic mapping of Wales and its people; extraordinary work that is daring, provocative and joyous, found in surprising places across the country.

"I intend to build on this legacy by ensuring that National Theatre Wales continues to be original, radical and relevant. Many people and organisations have contributed brilliantly to making the company such a national and international success, and I look forward to working with them all."

She added: "I have enjoyed three and a half extraordinary years in Doncaster setting up and launching Cast. It has been a privilege to be the founding director of a brand new performance venue in the town, and I want to extend my thanks to all those who have joined in on that journey as collaborators, audience members and supporters. I do believe that the foundations are well laid. Cast has successfully challenged many of the naysayers and shown that live performance along with a strong artistic vision is both welcomed by audiences and necessary for Doncaster and its future ambitions."

Andy Carver, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Cast said: "Kully being offered such a hugely prestigious national role is testimony to the fantastic success, and great reputation she has achieved for Cast in just two and a half years. She will be greatly missed, but the Board of Cast now look forward to appointing a successor who will build on these strong foundations and cement Cast’s role as a great cultural venue at the heart of Doncaster’s community."

Outgoing Artistic Director John McGrath said: “I am utterly delighted that Kully Thiarai has been appointed the new Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales. An inspiring leader with a proven commitment to extraordinary international theatre, and to deep engagement with the widest range of communities, she is a perfect choice for this fantastic job.”