In 2016, the RTST ran its first Director Award Scheme with Sheffield Theatres.

The Scheme provided an opportunity for an up-and-coming director to create and direct a full-scale production of a play, by an internationally renowned dramatist, at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre as part of its main programme of productions in 2017.

Sheffield Theatres External by Craig Fleming

The winner of the inaugural RTST Director Award was Kate Hewitt.

The runner up was Rebecca Frecknall.

As the winner, Kate went on to director Tribes by Nina Raine, which succesfully ran from 30 June to 22 July 2017. The production costs were supported by a grant of £25,000 from the RTST to Sheffield Theatres, and the play attracted much positive publicity for both Kate and Sheffield Theatres.

Kate’s journey began when the Scheme opened a national call-out for submissions in early 2016, asking candidates to submit in writing their ideas for directing a particular play of their own choosing. A prestigious Selection Panel chose Kate, alongside six other finalists, to take part in workshops in which all finalists were asked to demonstrate their directing skills. The Selection Panel was chaired by Daniel Evans, then the Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres.

Its other members were Robert Hastie, the current Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, Sir Ian McKellen, Dawn Walton, Richard Wilson and Dame Penelope Wilton.

The Panel observed and judged each finalist’s workshop performance, and, following interviews, selected Kate as the winner and Rebecca Frecknall as an official runner-up.

On winning the Award, Kate Hewitt said, “After an exhilarating finalists weekend of being observed directing, and interviews with a top class panel, I am thrilled to win the first ever RTST Director Award. The RTST Award has encouraged my ambition and creativity at every step of the process. It is an award with real integrity that looks to get the best from the directors that it meets. Opportunities are rare for young directors striving to make their mark in British theatre and it is an enormous boost to have the trust of this Award backing me as I continue on this path. What a privilege to work in Sheffield at the notoriously brilliant and vibrant Crucible Theatre, under Robert Hastie as part of his inaugural season. I have no doubt that this directing experience will be a pivotal moment for me and my career. Thank you RTST, Daniel Evans, Robert Hastie and the incredible panel.“

Daniel Evans commented: “It was incredibly challenging to whittle 97 applicants down to just 7 finalists – and an even greater challenge to arrive at a winner and a runner-up. The panel was constantly astonished by the curiosity, generosity and skill of our finalists and I’m hugely grateful to the RTST for facilitating such an in-depth process. If the future of our theatre is partly in the hands of directors such as our applicants, then there are very exciting times ahead for us all.”

Sir Ian McKellen commented: “The standard of the finalists was hugely impressive and I relished the chance to watch them at work. Kate Hewitt is a worthy winner but so many others also need help in establishing their careers as directors. I hope this first initiative by the Royal Theatrical Support Trust is an encouragement to all 97 applicants.”

Sir Geoffrey Cass, RTST Chairman, remarked: “The RTST Director Award 2016 had 7 finalists of the very highest quality, and there was strong competition from the other 90 candidates. Our experienced judging panel was vastly encouraged that the future of British theatre is in such exciting and capable hands. The two primary objectives of the Royal Theatrical Support Trust are the identification and encouragement of emerging theatre professionals, and the promotion of regional and repertory theatre. The RTST Director Award competition, run this year in collaboration with Sheffield Theatres, admirably serves to advance both these objectives.

Kate was presented with a trophy to mark her win at an award ceremony and RTST fundraising reception at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 6 November 2016.  The event was hosted by amongst others Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Mark Rylance and was attended by many prominent theatre practitioners.  Musical entertainment was provided by Joe Stilgoe and by students of LAMDA.

As the 2016 RTST Director Award winner, Kate went on to create and direct her vision of Nina Raine’s Tribes. The play focused on a comically dysfunctional Jewish British family, made up of the parents Beth and Christopher and three grown children living at home, Daniel, Ruth and Billy, the last of whom is deaf, raised to read lips and speak but without knowledge of sign language. When Billy meets Sylvia, a hearing woman born to deaf parents who is now slowly going deaf herself, his interaction with her (including her teaching him sign language) reveals some of the languages, beliefs, and hierarchies of the family and the “extended family” of the deaf community.

The Mail on Sunday called the production “a moving, utterly unsoppy look at just how deaf ‘hearing’ people can be“. And WhatsOnStage commented “there’s no disputing the quality of Kate Hewitt’s inventive, committed and supremely confident production” ★★★★

The After-story: our winner’s and runner-up’s subsequent careers

Photos of cast members of Tribes by Mark Douet, including those featured in our homepage slider.

Following the success of Tribes, Kate was engaged again by the Crucible – this time to direct Peter Morgan’s play Frost/Nixon in early 2018 in the Crucible’s main house as part of its first season curated by artistic director Robert Hastie. It was the regional première and the first British production since its debut (at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006), and it was the first British production since its debut, and had a range of excellent reviews:

★★★★ The Times ★★★★ WhatsOnStage ★★★★ TheStage ★★★★ TheReviewsHub ★★★★ BroadwayWorldUK

In August 2018, Kate directed Midsummer, which launched to five star reviews at the Edinburgh Festival. She directed Cock at Chichester Festival Theatre in autumn 2018 and Jesus Hopped the A Train at the Young Vic in early 2019. Kate directed Dave Hare’s Plenty at the Festival Theatre from summer 2019, getting a ★★★★ review from The Guardian and The Telegraph. For Plenty, she was nominated for Best Play Revival at the UK Theatre Awards. Follow Kate’s career on our Winners & Runner-Ups page.

Rachael Stirling in Plenty at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: The Other Richard
Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train

Runner up, Rebecca Frecknall directed Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke at the Almeida Theatre in March 2018 to five star reviews.”★★★★★ There is magic in the sultry magnolia-scented air at the Almeida…Do catch if you can.” – The Times. The production moved to the West End in November 2018. In 2019, Rebecca directed Three Sisters at Almeida Theatre and Steel at the Crucible. Follow Rebecca’s career on our Winners & Runner-Ups page.