Former Artistic Director of the Young Vic, director and playwright David Lan was presented with the Special Award at the Olivier Awards 2018 ceremony on Sunday evening at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
His speech discussed the local, national and international reach of Young Vic and his aims during his tenure here as Artistic Director.
You can read the full, unedited speech below:
First, thank you to the Society for this award.
It’s a big one and I’m pleased, to put it mildly, and surprised, to put it even more mildly. Whoever made the decision – I’m grateful to you.
It’s just me standing up here…
… but many had to do much on the journey to this big stage on this big evening.
Patrick McKenna – chair of my board for most of my 18 years
Kevin Fitzmaurice – my first executive director
Lucy Woollatt – my second executive director
Sue Emmas – my long-time associate
Steve Tompkins – architect of our fabulous building
My team, my many teams
And then –
The Arts Council, especially Alan Davey
The Jerwood Foundation, especially the profoundly missed Roanne Dodds
The Genesis Foundation, especially John Studzinsky
… all of whom got in behind our big idea even as we were working out what that big idea might be
… and many, many joined along the way.
Amongst those, especially, I thank the hundreds of great actors, writers, directors, designers, technicians, stage managers… without whom … without whom.
Another without whom – my boyfriend Nick Wright, sitting there in the front row, with whom I’ve been talking about theatre and much else for more than 40 years …
And my long term friend and inspiration Stephen Daldry, also without whom…
When Frank Dunlop started the Young Vic in London SE1 in the late 1960s it was imagined as a place where people could make theatre in the way they wanted their society to be: open, democratic, equal.
I believe we stayed true to those values.
Producers, crew, our whole team thought of our theatre as a welcoming environment in which great artists meet great audiences.
All that mattered to us was what happened when, night after night, those memorable meetings took place.
And alongside many great and will-be-great artists from this country, we welcomed others from Iceland, France, Germany, Brazil, South Africa, the US, Palestine, Congo, Poland, Syria, from all over the planet.
And we welcomed thousands of non-professionals from our neighbourhoods, young as well as old, especially – though not only – the vulnerable in whatever way.
To the shows we made with them we gave the same high status we gave any artist.
Over recent years, we’ve engaged with the world in a special way by inviting into our theatre refugees.
Their lives, their stories, themselves as performers.
I hope you’ll forgive me if I contrast the Young Vic’s welcoming environment with the hostile environment – to give it its official name – which the Home Office creates in relation to refugees.
In particular, the decision to close the door on hundreds of young refugees now scattered across Northern France, many with the legal right to live in this country, abandoned to hunger, to cold, to people traffickers within clear sight of us on a sunny day.
And what of those with no legal right?
My grandparents fled Lithuania as teenagers in the 1920s – escaping poverty and anti-Semitism.
Were they economic migrants? Well, they were certainly after a better life.
Fifteen years later when the Nazis marched in, their parents were killed in the streets. So, in retrospect, were Mottel and Golda Lan really political refugees?
Their modern-day equivalents are – now as I speak – locked in squalor in Yarls Wood and other detention centres. Hundreds are deported or turned away.
In The Jungle by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson which we and the National and Good Chance Theatre produced last year, a volunteer at the camp in Calais says of the refugees making their way across Europe:
‘It’s only a crisis because we’re calling it that. A half a million refugees – the population of Europe is 700 million, that’s who knows how tiny a percent. Go to Jordan, a quarter of the people are refugees. Lebanon, it’s a third. Crisis? European Governments need to stop breaking their own laws.’
In Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance, now playing at the Young Vic, a character describes the house which symbolises their sufferings and dreams as:
‘A shelter, a refuge, a place of healing; a reminder of the pain, the fragility and the promise of life’.
That’s what I hoped my theatre would be.
We wanted to change the world. Perhaps all we changed was a few streets of London SE1. But that we did.
In that spirit and on behalf of the hundreds, the thousands of citizens of south London and the world who changed it with me –
– thank you for this.
The Olivier Awards 2018 presented by Catherine Tate are now available to watch on the ITV player.