Lynette Linton On The 50th Anniversary Of The Bush Theatre
It’s nearly tough to convince Lynette Linton to blow her own trumpet, as you rapidly realize. The creative director of the Bush Theatre, appointed in 2019 at the age of 28 (the youngest ever), will direct three productions in the coming year, including one at the National Theatre, and see the airing of her first full-length TV film, which is almost pathologically collaborative.
She went ahead and did it. Linton is a new type of artistic director, having had to grow up quickly as a leader to guide her organization through the pandemic since her arrival. Lauren Clancy, her executive director, and Daniel Bailey, her deputy artistic director, are always by her side when she gives a speech.
We’re talking about the Bush’s 50th anniversary season, which was announced today, in a moderately chilly practice room.
This anniversary triumphantly reflects the diversity that we’ve come to expect from Linton’s tenure, made up entirely of new, unseen plays, all commissioned for the Bush and featuring writers like Waleed Akhtar and Ambreen Razia and directors like Anthony Simpson-Pike and Róisn McBrinn.
The major piece will be August in England, a monologue written and performed by Sir Lenny Henry about a guy who came over from Jamaica and made a home in West Bromwich but is now facing deportation. (Rather than keeping this little gem to herself, Linton will direct it alongside Bailey in the spring of next year.) “We’re a tag-team,” she says, with a smile on her face.
She’s also directing the season’s first show, Beru Tessema’s House of Ife, about a British-Ethiopian family dealing with the death of their eldest son.
She mentions Natasha Gordon’s play Nine Night, which premiered at the National Theatre Dorfman in 2018 and moved on to the West End, as an example, but argues that “a lot of material, particularly by black artists, isn’t published.”
If Linton’s forthcoming year is any indication, it will be. Her 90-minute film adaptation of Kit de Waal’s novel My Name is Leon will air on BBC One this summer. It tells the story of a nine-year-old mixed-race youngster whose mother had another white child. Leon’s younger brother gets adopted when both children are brought into care, but Leon is not.
She continues, “It’s basically about his journey to reclaim his brother.” “You’re going to cry.” “I can’t watch it!” someone exclaimed in the edit suite.
The story is unmistakably depressing, but also beautiful, according to Linton: Leon meets an older black man, Tufty, played by Malachi Kirby (the cast also includes Lenny Henry, Monica Dolan, Olivia Williams, and Christopher Eccleston), and through him “he discovers his blackness, who he is, and where he comes from.”
Linton will make her National Theatre debut in September, directing Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, starring Hamilton’s Giles Terera and Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black; The Handmaid’s Tale).
“It’s about four friends trying to live their lives in Renaissance Harlem, and then a stranger from Alabama comes in and throws everything around,” Linton continues. “It’s just African Americans living,” she explained why she wanted to do it. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking, and humorous, and they’re doing some pretty fantastic stuff. You’ve got a doctor, a woman fighting for abortion rights, a musician, and a designer who is openly homosexual. That is revolutionary because they are simply living their life, something I never see on stage. “How long has it been since you last saw a black doctor on stage?
The Bush Theatre’s 50th anniversary season has been announced; see bushtheatre.co.uk for more information.