Kneehigh, the award-winning Cornish-based international touring theatre company has announced its closure after 41 years in operation.
While many theatre companies have been forced to close during the pandemic for economic reasons, a statement from Kneehigh announcing the shutdown attributed the decision to changes in artistic leadership.
“Recent changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward,” said the statement.
“The Trustees and company reflected on a possible new future but concluded that it was better and more responsible to close Kneehigh and ensure an orderly wind down.
“The company wants to thank everyone who came to watch the performances, the artists they have had the pleasure to work alongside, the industry collaborators and partners, the volunteers and community groups who shared their time, knowledge and stories, as well as the funders and the friends – all of whom made the work possible.”
Referencing the wider economic challenges that had faced UK drama in the last 12 months, the management company pointed out that Kneehigh’s financial stability had enabled the company to continue to create work throughout the pandemic.
The company acknowledged the support from principal funder Arts Council England and for “the significant recent support” received from the Culture Recovery Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Coastal Communities Fund, Cornwall Council and Garfield Weston Foundation.
Kneehigh board chair Hedda Archbold said: “The board wants to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for the Kneehigh team. We want to thank them for the excellent work they have done and pay tribute to their passion and commitment to Kneehigh.
“Last Saturday, the brilliant Random Acts of Art had its final performance. The project has been a high point on which to end.
“Eclectic, anarchic, inspiring and inclusive, it embodied the spirit of Kneehigh we have loved for the past 40 glorious years. Despite the challenges of the past year, it has been an incredible journey filled with joy and delight.”
The decision means that further production plans for 2021 will now cease.
Kneehigh was founded 41 years ago in 1980 by Mike Shepherd, who remained as artistic director until this year. His departure in March came just two months after deputy artistic director Carl Grose. When Shepherd left, the company told The Stage that the end of his tenure meant it would “take stock and carefully consider its future plans”.
Starting in Cornwall, Kneehigh built a reputation for the range of its theatrical elements and visual work, its frequent use of mythological and folk themes and its eclectic choice of venues, including village halls and outside spaces. As it grew, the company toured extensively around the world including the USA, China, Syria and Australasia. In 2002, its then artistic director Emma Rice won Best Director at the Barclays Theatre Awards. The company’s production of Brief Encounter was nominated for four Olivier Awards and two Tony Awards.