Leadership search prompts speculation

News that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood, respectively a.d. and chief exec of one of the world’s best-known legit outfits, are to step down in 2012 has caused a whirlwind of rumor and speculation. Names thrown out to replace Boyd include Michael Grandage, Marianne Elliott, Dominic Cooke, Sam Mendes and Kenneth Branagh.

Whoever takes the reins of the RSC will arrive with the org in a position vastly improved from the one Boyd inherited in 2002, when the troupe was demoralized and drowning in acrimony.

Heywood describes their exit as “planned and slow.” Indeed, their departure is calmly logical: Boyd will have been in the post for a decade, and the two execs are riding high on the successful opening of their rebuilt main house at the company’s Stratford-Upon-Avon home. The building formally opened this year after coming in on time and on its budget of £112.8 million ($181 million).

The determining factor in the hunt for Boyd’s successor lies in his seemingly inconsequential remark: “I’d like to spend more time with my actors.” Helming plays is only part of the job description for the artistic head of a company, which employs around 700 and presents, on average, 15 new productions every year, from Shakespeare to new plays. This year, that has included the six-week, five-play residency at Gotham’s Park Avenue Armory as part of Lincoln Center Festival, and the hit tuner version of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,” now previewing at the West End’s Cambridge Theater.

In other words, the search is on for someone with serious organizational and producing clout. No one has yet put a head above the parapet, but the leading insider candidate is Gregory Doran, RSC’s current chief associate director, who would represent continuity and a steady hand. Doran was Boyd’s rival for the post a decade ago.

Should the board favor a maverick, Rupert Goold, the RSC associate director whose recent “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Merchant of Venice” have been anything but traditional, could be the pick. He also has a serious profile outside the company, not least for “Macbeth” with Patrick Stewart, and “Enron,” which flopped on Broadway but was a massive hit in the U.K.

Goold, however, is believed to be more keen on taking over the Royal Court Theater if and when topper Cooke ankles. Cooke, according to insiders, is considering a return to a freelance career. That would give him a couple of years before readying himself for the National Theater, which Nicholas Hytner is now skedded to leave sometime after 2013.

Both of the leading female talents — National associate director Elliott (“War Horse”) and Phyllida Lloyd (“Mary Stuart,” “Mamma Mia!”) — have previously ruled themselves out of full-time administrative gigs. And after quitting the Donmar at the end of this year, Grandage is also hurling himself into freelance life after more than a decade running Sheffield’s Crucible Theater and then the Donmar Warehouse.

Mendes might consider a return to the company that helped seal his early reputation with a string of RSC productions in the early 1990s. But if his latest venture — helming the latest James Bond picture — goes according to plan, he may also stick to freelancing.

And then there’s Branagh, who made a considerable splash playing Henry V at RSC in 1984 at age 24, and then Hamlet. He has just finished a run at Belfast’s Lyric Theater of “The Painkiller,” in which he played a hitman in Sean Foley’s adaptation of a French farce. But the RSC job would have to compete with Branagh’s success in TV roles (“Wallander”) and movies (his “Thor” was a hit, and he’s got more films in development).

Coming up on the inside is David Farr. He has a lower profile but greatCV, having run London venues the Gate and the Lyric Hammersmith, and been joint a.d. of regional house Bristol Old Vic. He’s also a playwright and screenwriter and, significantly, an RSC associate director.

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