Chichester Festival theatre has appointed Justin Audibert as its new artistic director. Audibert, who leads London’s Unicorn theatre for children, will succeed Daniel Evans at Chichester and take up his role in July. Evans is leaving to run the Royal Shakespeare Company with Tamara Harvey.
Mark Foster, chair of Chichester Festival theatre, said that Audibert’s “experience in making theatre for audiences of all ages in venues large and small, together with his creativity, energy and enthusiasm, make him an outstanding choice … As well as being one of the UK’s most admired directors, he shares our values and our commitment to the vital importance of community, diversity and inclusion.”
Audibert has directed a number of critically acclaimed shows at the Unicorn (including Anansi the Spider and Marvin’s Binoculars, which he also wrote) as well as for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. He hailed Chichester’s “brilliant, innovative productions with inspirational artists that delight audiences” and praised the work it does in communities through its learning, education and participation department. “Being able to combine those two huge passions of mine and lead such a dynamic team makes this my dream job,” he said, adding that the Unicorn, which he joined as artistic director in 2018, is “a unique and joyful organisation” and that he looked forward to “cheering it on and watching it grow and thrive under my successor”.
Audibert took over from the widely admired Purni Morell at the Unicorn and his time at the theatre coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic which curtailed the first season of work that he programmed himself. During the national lockdowns when theatres were closed the Unicorn partnered with the Guardian on inventive digital productions including Anansi the Spider Re-Spun as a treat for young audiences who had been denied what he called “the sense of special occasion” you get from a trip to the theatre.
The bold programming during Audibert’s time at the Unicorn has included Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Bee in Me, about a childhood of neglect navigated as if it was a video game, and Katie Hims’ new version of The Trial, which turns Kafka’s protagonist into a young girl. The Trial of Josie K opens later this month. Before leaving the Unicorn, Audibert will direct a musical version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff for children aged three to six.
Evans, who leaves Chichester at the end of April, said Audibert had run the Unicorn with “innovation and ingenuity”. Kathy Bourne, executive director at Chichester, said his “verve and dynamism” would be a great fit for the theatre.