In September 2004, Kerry Michael, a second-generation Greek Cypriot and an associate director of the theatre, became the new artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East. His goal as artistic director was to uphold the theatre's commitment to develop new work and to provide a platform for those voices underrepresented in the ever-changing communities of the East End of London.
His debut play as artistic director was The Battle of Green Lanes by Cosh Omar. Set amongst London's Cypriot community, it provided an early example of Kerry's commitment to those unheard voices.
Kerry continued Philip Hedley’s Musical Theatre Initiative by encouraging the development of new musicals. He directed the hit musical Come Dancing, co-written by Ray Davies. He also directed The Harder They Come, which obtained wide critical acclaim, transferring to the Barbican and the West End and touring internationally.
The theatre started working with bestselling novelist Martina Cole, adapting three of her plays for the stage: Two Women in 2010, The Graft in 2011, and Dangerous Lady in 2012.
In 2007, the theatre was nominated for the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, both for Boy Blue Entertainment’s Pied Piper and for ‘presenting a powerful season of provocative work that reaches new audiences’. Pied Piper won the Olivier. In 2008, Kerry followed up with another Olivier Award-nominated production: Cinderella, which was the first panto ever to be nominated for an Olivier Award. Roadkill, a site-specific show from autumn 2011, won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre in 2012.
In 2008, Kerry led a consortium partnership to pilot the International Festival for Emerging Artists (IFEA), which saw 48 emerging artists from all over the world come together in Stratford to collaborate on new work.
In 2009, the theatre launched Open Stage, a landmark initiative which asked the audience what they’d like to see on stage. Open Stage led the theatre to open its doors to all who wanted to be involved, from sharing programming ideas to volunteering to work on a production. The resulting programme took place over the first six months of 2012 and the building is frequently filled with the familiar faces of its volunteers, who continue their relationship with the theatre.
As the landscape around it changed following the 2012 Games, Theatre Royal Stratford East continued to showcase work inspired by its local community as well as the world today.
The theatre was proud host to Nigeria House during the Olympics, with artists and dignitaries from Nigeria’s delegation planning a cultural festival in our building. Our 30 Nigeria House project, a unique residential opportunity for 30 young British-born and Nigerian theatremakers coincided with the London 2012 festival that ran all summer.
2012 also saw the summer residency of experiential theatre hit You Me Bum Bum Train which lead to another Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.
In 2013 Kerry directed Tanika Gupta’s smash hit comedy Love’N’Stuff, with a sell-out run in the main theatre. It was also the year that TriForce creative Network’s MonologueSlam found its London home at Stratford East, with the theatre becoming an official partner and venue for the industry showcase, providing career opportunities for actors from all backgrounds, circumstances and profiles.
Oh What a Lovely War was revived to popular acclaim in early 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary year of its debut at TRSE and to coincide with the Centenary of the First World War. With an ensemble cast including Caroline Quentin and a world-class creative team led by Terry Johnson and Lez Brotherston, the production earned a nomination for the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.
In 2015 Theatre Royal Stratford East regular Tanika Gupta adapted Meera Syal’s much-loved debut novel Anita and Me for the stage in association with Birmingham REP. We also revived our innovative site-responsive project HOME Theatre, which brought 30 theatremakers into 30 homes across the capital, with an intimate series of personal plays performed in living rooms. The performances were followed by a pioneering international symposium on performing in people’s homes, community engagement, arts participation and audience development.
In October 2015, after ten years of campaigning for planning permission Kerry finally realised a long time TRSE passion project to commission a statue of Joan Littlewood in the square outside our main entrance. It was unveiled by future Young Mayor Alex Jarrett in a celebration featuring Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, former Theatre Workshop Company members Murray Melvin and Barbara Windsor and the poet Caroline Bird. The statue was designed by renowned sculptor Philip Jackson.
TRSE pantomimes have a long history of integration and inclusion and that year’s Robin Hood was no exception with Nadia Albina starring as a champion archer, bringing para athletics to the East London stage.
In 2016 the theatre launched Gerry’s, a new café and performance space with an 80-seat studio theatre. This space allowed TRSE to present some of the most cutting-edge shows on the London theatre scene, as well as provide a variety of workshops for members of the public, and a rolling programme of events including poets, artists, cabaret artists, singers and musicians.
Stratford East’s smash hit revival of rock opera The Who's TOMMY opened in the spring of 2017. Produced by Ramps on the Moon and directed by Kerry Michael, the production integrated D/deaf, hearing, disabled and non-disabled performers and musicians on a mainstream stage with five star success.
After programming new play Summer In London, which featured the UK’s first all-trans cast on a mainstream stage, and bringing Graeae’s Reasons To Be Cheerful and its all-inclusive cast back to Stratford East for a final tour, Kerry Michael stood down from his role as Artistic Director in 2017 after thirteen years.
Nadia Fall joined us as Artistic Director in September 2017 and opened a new chapter for the theatre.
Photos are all from Theatre Royal Stratford East Archive.