Sarah Frankcom steps down as Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre


It has been announced today that Sarah Frankcom is stepping down as Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre to take up a new post as Director of the prestigious drama school LAMDA. Sarah originally joined the Exchange as Literary Manager in 1998. In 2008 she was made Joint Artistic Director before taking up her current position as sole Artistic Director in 2014. Under her artistic leadership the Exchange has thrived and has been celebrated for its originality, innovation and continued support for the next generation of writers, actors, directors and theatre makers. Described as a ‘Powerhouse’ and recognised for its ‘brave and bold’ programming Sarah has shaped the Theatre into an award-winning Company that asks what a producing theatre can be for artists, audiences and communities today.

Sarah Frankcom, Royal Exchange Artistic Director said,  

“My last four years at the Royal Exchange have been the most fulfilling and exhilarating of my career to date. The Theatre has allowed me to focus on my passions of nurturing new work and developing next generation theatre talent, whilst collaborating with some amazing artists and sharing work with an increasingly wide range of audiences. I’m immensely proud of the strides the Company has taken on and off our stages, increasing representation in both the stories we share with audiences, the artists we make work with, and the meaningful way in which we now work with, and listen to the communities we serve. The Exchange is in a really positive place and confidently embraces creative adventure. The time is ripe for fresh ideas and a new imagination to explore the possibilities of our iconic spaces, and lead the Company to new places artistically in partnership with our inspiring Executive Director, Steve Freeman.”

“There are very few jobs I would feel excited about leaving the Exchange for, but my background in teaching and enduring appetite for finding new and innovative ways of developing the widest variety of theatre talent, made the offer to lead LAMDA, and reimagine what drama training might be in the future, too enticing a challenge to pass up. I can’t wait to see what the Exchange accomplishes next, and know that whoever the next Artistic Director is, they will be enabled and supported by the finest of theatre colleagues, artists and audiences.” 

Creating some of the Exchange’s most defining pieces of theatre, Sarah’s work as a director has seen her reimagine classic drama and breathe life into new plays. Through her creative partnership with Associate Artist Maxine Peake she has redefined work as wide ranging as HAMLET, Caryl Churchill’s THE SKRIKER, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and in 2018 Samuel Beckett’s surreal masterpiece HAPPY DAYS. Her recent productions have included the critically acclaimed DEATH OF A SALESMAN with Don Warrington and OUR TOWN, for which she was awarded Best Director at the 2018 UK Theatre Awards.  

Alongside her work on stage Sarah established THE BRUNTWOOD PRIZE FOR PLAYWRITING, a beacon for new writing and now Europe’s largest playwriting competition. She has championed the development of the Exchange’s award-winning Young Company and Elders whose extraordinary work continues to inform and impact. OPEN EXCHANGE, a growing network of local artists, has helped to connect makers from across the region providing space and support for the development of theatre here in the City. She has placed audiences and the communities of Greater Manchester at the heart of the organisation through unique projects such as YOU, THE AUDIENCE, the GM CRITICS SCHEME and the development of the Theatre’s newest programme of work LOCAL EXCHANGE. These projects have become a vital part of a continually evolving relationship with audience and communities.  

Royal Exchange Executive Director Steve Freeman commented…  

“It is a testament to Sarah’s generosity and vision that she is moving on from the Royal Exchange when the organisation is at the height of its creativity, handing over one of the most exciting roles in British theatre to fresh talent. She leaves us in an incredibly strong and vibrant position with art, artists, audiences, and our local communities at the centre of all we do. Her leadership is the reason why the Exchange is such a thriving and vital cultural institution, and her legacy is a tremendous foundation for our future. I know that Sarah will have an equally powerful impact in her new role at LAMDA.”

Alison Clark, Director North and National Combined Arts Director at Arts Council England added:  

“The Royal Exchange has gone from strength to strength under the artistic directorship of Sarah Frankcom. The work that has been produced under her leadership has been artistically outstanding and innovative, while also attuned and connected to local communities and audiences. She leaves the Royal Exchange in a fantastic place to now build on what she has achieved, especially under its new Executive Director, Steve Freeman. On a personal note I will miss Sarah’s presence in the city but look forward to seeing the difference she’ll make in her new role.”

Ben Caldwell, Chair of the Royal Exchange’s Board concludes…   

“Sarah is an extraordinary leader and an inspiring Artistic Director. It goes without saying that we are sorry to see her go but wish her an enormous amount of luck in her new role at LAMDA. I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Sarah since 2015 and have seen her passion for theatre and her drive for change first hand. Under her guidance the Royal Exchange has soared, our work is celebrated, our audiences have grown, and they are younger and more representative of our city region. She leaves this theatre on a high, with a strength and confidence for what our future might hold. I cannot think of anyone better to shape the future of LAMDA and I thank her for her everything she has brought to this unique Manchester theatre.”

As Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Sarah Frankcom has transformed the Theatre into one of the most important and vibrant producing houses in the UK. She takes up her new role at LAMDA in November 2019.