A plaque unveiled

A plaque honouring the inspirational founder of Hampstead Theatre has been unveiled at the theatre in north London.

James Roose-Evans, who founded Hampstead Theatre in 1959, died in October 2022 at the age of 94. Over his 12 years as Artistic Director he directed a huge range of work – including world premieres of plays by Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams – while also assuring the theatre’s future by moving the venue to its first Swiss Cottage home and by then securing Arts Council funding.

Hampstead Theatre’s current Producer and Chief Executive, Greg Ripley-Duggan said: “The plaque celebrates James Roose-Evans and everything he achieved, not just for Hampstead, but for theatre right across London and the UK.

“James’s work was always driven by passion and energy. He was an excellent judge of plays, was wonderful with actors and was a very fine director. He had a relentlessly curious intellect and spirit and he was always keen to experiment. He also had fantastic relationships with writers, such as Pinter and Tennessee Williams, and he encouraged a whole generation of directors, from Richard Cotrell and Richard Wilson to Richard Eyre.”

“James once said to me that ‘It’s a stupid thing to launch a theatre with no experience of running one and no head for business whatsoever – but my motto was ‘leap, and the net will appear’.  Arts Council England withdrew Hampstead’s grant shortly after James died – having continuously supported the theatre since he first secured funding in the late 1960s.  So we look back at his motto: we have been obliged to leap, and any net will be made up of the ticket-buying public, our philanthropic supporters, and the artists who will make work here. I am sure that net will appear because this theatre has such deep foundations – created by James and strengthened across sixty-four years – and I know they will sustain us for another sixty years and beyond.”

The unveiling took place prior to the press night performance for Lauren Gunderson’s anthropology – the first play of Hampstead Theatre’s first season in fifty years without public subsidy.  Dame Siân Philips, who was directed by Roose-Evans in Hampstead’s first season in 1959, unveiled the plaque. She said: “I first met James at the Everyman Cinema House and he asked me to do a play because he’d just started Hampstead Theatre. It was a wonderful place to work. He was a dreamer, an innovator, and a great director who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. I’m deeply proud and hugely honoured to unveil this plaque in memory of one of the great theatre people of our time: James Roose-Evans.”

Hampstead Theatre is currently staging the world premieres of Lauren Gunderson’s anthropology, directed by Anna Ledwich, until 14 October and Marek Horn’s Octopolis, directed by Ed Madden, until 28 October. hampsteadtheatre.com