The JMK Trust, in partnership with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, today announce that Will Ashford receives the inaugural JMK Bob Carlton Bursary, which through the generous support of Bob’s family, will fund a role as an Assistant Director at Birmingham Rep. This bursary has been established in Bob’s name as an opportunity for a new director with a connection to the Midlands, where Bob hailed from.

As the recipient of the £2,350 bursary, Will takes on the role of assistant director for Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep Roxana Silbert’s upcoming production of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma. This opportunity will provide an invaluable learning and training opportunity, gaining new skills and insights into the production process.

Emily Carlton, Bob’s daughter, said today, “This grant means so much to us. Dad believed passionately that the arts should be accessible to everyone, and was saddened by a growing culture of unpaid work across all creative industries, that can make these careers unthinkable for those without personal connections or a financial safety net. He would have been delighted to see a programme that gives talented young people, outside of London, their first chance. A lot of people have given very generously in his memory, and it is the perfect tribute to his life and ideals.”

Will Ashford added, “As a young director, I am extremely grateful to have received such a necessary bursary at this crucial point in my career. It has provided me with a real sense of financial security, to enable me to work on the production to the best of my ability, without the distracting stress of needing to supplement my income to make this role financially viable. I’m enormously grateful to the JMK Trust, whose sense of care and responsibility to the younger generation is second to none. They get what it is to make theatre, and their faith in me is providing an invaluable opportunity to enter into a career in professional theatre.

“It’s also an extraordinary opportunity to work with Roxanna and the team at Birmingham Rep on this compelling story – the journey these women undertake is a distillation of many different female journeys and voices that have been unfairly silenced.”

Stephen Fewell, Chair of the JMK Trust, said today, “The JMK Trust began life as a memorial for our friend. It has survived and grown not just by association with the phenomenal theatre directors it’s supported, but by the financial support of farsighted friends- at first of James, but then of the idea itself; that access to leadership roles in the creative arts should be open to all, irrespective of economic or social background.

“This legacy funding, creating paid opportunities as it commemorates Bob- a director of singular enterprise and inclusive verve, is something we are honoured to efficiently oversee. As all of the JMK’s work can only go ahead if we attract the necessary funds that same year, we hope the Bob Carlton Award inspires not only aspiring directors, but the creative-thinking generosity it embodies.”

Roxana Silbert said, “Birmingham Rep is delighted to be hosting this new bursary, and to continue the work we share with The JMK Trust in developing talented new artists. We are particularly pleased to have Will join us on this production, not only because he shows real potential, but also for the insight he can bring to the story.”

The JMK Trust was founded in memory of James Menzies-Kitchin, a young director of great promise who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 28, to give opportunities to theatre directors of similar ability and vision. Each year it gives one prestigious award to enable an outstanding applicant aged 35 or under to create their own production of their choice of classic text. Its intensive development and selection process has itself given powerful impetus to the best theatre practitioners of the future. Previous winners have become major players in British theatre, including Thea Sharrock, Orla O’Loughlin, Bijan Sheibani, Joe Hill-Gibbins, Natalie Abrahami, Roy Alexander Weise and Polly Findlay.

The expanding National Directors Programme provides year-round training, mentoring, bursaries and support for directors of all ages. The current partners in the programme are Bristol Old Vic, Tobacco Factory Theatres, HOME in Manchester, Royal and Derngate Northampton, Salisbury Playhouse, Traverse Edinburgh, Birmingham Rep, Northern Stage, Nuffield Theatres Southampton, Reading Rep, Sherman Cymru and Leeds Playhouse. The programme at each partner venue is run by the JMK Trust’s five Director Practitioners – who are established, locally-based directors. They curate the Programme for their region, working with their nearest partner venues to tailor the work to the needs of local directors. An essential network seeking talent from across the UK, the Programme feeds into the JMK Award, enabling a truly national reach.

Bob Carlton was a writer and director who shared Dennis Potter’s faith in the power of popular song within drama, most famously expressed in his show Return to the Forbidden Planet, which won the Olivier award for best new musical in 1989. Billed as “Shakespeare’s forgotten rock’n’roll masterpiece”, it grafted nearly 30 great hits on to plot and dialogue based on The Tempest.

As a young director he cut his teeth at Coventry, Lancaster and the York Theatre Royal, before taking over the London Bubble theatre, which toured the outer boroughs in a tent, offering productions aimed at younger audiences and non-theatregoers.

There he wrote Return to the Forbidden Planet, pioneering the actor/musician show. There were London runs in 1992 for From a Jack to a King (based on Macbeth) and in 1993 for Lust, a Heather Brothers musical based on Wycherley’s The Country Wife.

Bob’s commitment to popular theatre resumed at the Queen’s theatre, Hornchurch, east London, which he ran from 1997 to 2014, winning improved backing from the Arts Council, the local authority and audiences, retaining Shakespeare, Brecht and pop music as his guides. A lifelong socialist, he believed that the theatre should be accessible in all ways.


The JMK Trust is supported by Philip Hooker, the Martin Bowley Charitable Trust, the Carne Trust, The Leverhulme Trust, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, Arts Council England, Directors Charitable Foundation and other individual donors.

For further information on how to support the Trust, please see:


Tom Morris OBE (Founding Chair), Dame Judi Dench, Baroness Howe and Sir Ian McKellen.


Michael Buffong, Stephen Fewell (Chair), Robert Gill (Secretary), Clare Menzies-Kitchin MBE, Rachael Palmer, Lucy Popescu, Ben Power and Mark Rosenblatt (Vice Chair).

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