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Robert Icke
BornRobert William Icke
29 November 1986 (1986-11-29) (age 34)
Stockton-on-Tees, England
OccupationWriter, director
EducationUniversity of Cambridge
Notable worksOresteia
Uncle Vanya
Notable awardsOlivier Award, Evening Standard Award, Critics' Circle, UK Theatre Awards

Robert Icke FRSL (born 29 November 1986) is an English writer and theatre director. He has been referred to as the "great hope of British theatre."[1][2][3][4]

He is best known for his modern adaptations of classic texts, including versions of Oresteia, Mary Stuart, Uncle Vanya, and 1984, devised with Duncan Macmillan.


Early career

Born in Stockton-on-Tees to a non-theatrical family, he was taken to see a production of Richard III starring Kenneth Branagh as a teenager, which inspired him to take up writing and directing.[5] He then founded a theatre company, Arden Theatre, and directed a series of shows at Arc Theatre over a five-year period between 2003-2008. He studied at Ian Ramsey Church of England School and then studied English at King's College, Cambridge, where he was taught by Anne Barton.

Mentored by Michael Grandage[6] through his early career, he worked as an Assistant and Associate Director to Thea Sharrock, Michael Attenborough and Trevor Nunn.


In 2010, Icke replaced Ben Power as Associate Director at Rupert Goold's company Headlong. His interview for the post involved him giving a critique of Goold's production of Enron.[7] He first worked alongside Goold on the site-specific Decade at St Katharine's Docks. He then directed touring productions of Romeo and Juliet, the first production of Boys by Ella Hickson and 1984, written and directed with Duncan Macmillan, which began as a tour at Nottingham Playhouse in 2013 and after an extended further life, opened on Broadway in 2017.

Almeida Theatre

In 2013, Icke left Headlong to take up a post as Associate Director at the Almeida Theatre. His work there began with the Almeida transfer of his Headlong 1984 in early 2014, which transferred to the Playhouse Theatre in the West End later that year, before transferring to Broadway in 2017. In summer 2014, he directed the European premiere of Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn, which provoked a violently divided critical reaction.[8] In early 2015, he directed Tobias Menzies in The Fever in a site-specific production in a hotel room in Mayfair.

The show that marked Icke as a major British talent was his 2015 Oresteia, the opening production of Goold and Icke's 'Almeida Greek' season of Greek tragedy.[7] A free adaptation of Aeschylus' original running at nearly four hours with three intermissions, Icke added a self-penned prologue to the Aeschylus text concerning the sacrifice of Iphigenia: a "70-minute prequel that dramatises both what led up to that sacrifice and the act itself", which critic Dominic Maxwell dubbed "a masterpiece".[9] Oresteia received rave reviews, won Icke several awards, and transferred to the West End.

Icke followed this in 2016 with his own adaptations of Uncle Vanya, starring Paul Rhys, and Mary Stuart, in which Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams tossed a coin to alternate the two central roles of Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I. Mary Stuart transferred to the West End in 2018, opening to rave reviews.[10]

After several months of rumours,[11] Andrew Scott played Hamlet in Icke's production at the Almeida in early 2017. The production, which presented a Scandi-noir surveillance state, received rave reviews and transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre, produced by Sonia Friedman.[12][13] Hamlet was filmed and broadcast on BBC Two on Easter Saturday 2018.[14]

In summer 2019, Icke stepped down from his Almeida role after six years to focus on his freelance career.[15]

The Doctor

Icke wrote and directed The Doctor, which premiered at the Almeida Theatre on August 10, 2019.[16] The Doctor was his final production as the Associate Director of the Almeida.[17] It is an adaptation of Viennese dramatist Arthur Schnitzler's 1912 play Professor Bernhardi. The Doctor earned Icke the Evening Standards Award for Best Director in 2019.[18] In 2020, the play also earned a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Play.[19] The production was scheduled to transfer to London’s West End, but was postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The play follows Dr. Ruth Wolff, the Executive Director of the Elizabeth Institute, who refuses to let a Catholic priest into the operating room where a girl is dying from a botched self-administered abortion. After a video of the physical altercation with the priest goes viral on the internet, Ruth begins to receive severe backlash from some of the hospital staff, the girl’s father, a network of social media users, and a panel of social activist groups. Each of the masses question Ruth’s intention for prohibiting the priest’s entrance, who is later revealed to be a Black man, and criticize her refusal to identify with labels. The Doctor explores themes of identity, race, privilege, religion, mental health, and sexuality. Icke utilizes nontraditional casting methods, such as color-conscious casting, to manipulate the audience’s expectations and internal biases towards identity groups. The play is set in one hospital with a long office table centered on a slowly revolving turntable. The Doctor employs live music provided by drummer Hannah Ledwidge to underscore the tension and pacing within each scene.[20]

The Doctor was met with critical acclaim. In a five-star review, former chief drama critic of The Guardian Michael Billington writes, “At the heart of the play lie two crucial issues handled with exemplary fairness. One is whether the purity of medical ethics supersedes all other considerations. The other related topic is the danger of constantly playing identity politics: as one of Ruth’s colleagues points out, it is irrelevant whether a doctor is white, Jewish, godless or a woman, and even more destructive to allow the professions to be judged by sanctimonious trolls.”[21] In another five-star review, Fiona Mountford of The Telegraph writes, “(Icke) embarks upon a thrilling series of games of theatricality and rugpulling in which nothing is quite what – or who – it seems. We are, the play says from its slickly impersonal set on a slow revolve, far more complex than a series of simplistic labels.”[22] Others were more critical of Icke’s racial and gender cross-casting. Ravi Ghosh of Exeunt Magazine suggests that Icke’s idea of each actor’s identity being the opposite of their character’s identity “clouds nuance, and implies that vocalising minority experience can be counterintuitive in real world scenarios.”[23]

Olivier Award- winning English actress Juliet Stevenson received universal praise for her performance as Dr. Ruth Wolff in The Doctor. Stevenson won the 2019 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress[24] and was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award and an Evening Standard Award for Best Actress.

Other work

Icke made his National Theatre debut with The Red Barn, starring Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki in 2016.

In 2018, Icke opened his new adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus for Ivo van Hove's company Toneelgroep Amsterdam,[25] starring Hans Kesting and Marieke Heebink. This production was selected for the Dutch Theatre Festival 2018 and was performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2019.[26]

Icke's text of his adaptations of 1984, Oresteia, Uncle Vanya, Mary Stuart, The Wild Duck and his 'performance text' of Hamlet are published by Oberon Books.

In March 2019, Icke won the Kurt Hübner award for the German adaptation of Oresteia.[27]


Icke has said that, in his work on classics, he searches for a return "to the impulse of the original play, to clear away the accumulated dust of its performance history. So much of great drama was profoundly troubling when it was first done. The word radical actually means to go back to the root. They rioted at Ibsen's A Doll’s House...Audiences shouldn't be allowed to feel nothing."[28]

He has described his philosophy of adaptation as

like using a foreign plug. You are in a country where your hairdryer won't work when you plug it straight in. You have to find the adaptor which will let the electricity of now flow into the old thing and make it function.[5]

Icke has also spoken about the importance of attracting younger audiences to the theatre, describing theatre's elderly audience as "a big problem ...the industry’s going to have to address and sort out because otherwise we’re dead. In 50 or 60 years, there will be no audience."[29] He courted controversy in 2016 by admitting that he thought audiences should leave plays in the interval if they found them boring.[30]

Sarah Crompton has written of Icke's methods for initiating projects, "he finds an actor he wants to collaborate with and then they discuss the play that actor wants to perform", noting "the way he is quietly building relationships with an entire group of actors and bringing them back to work on successive projects."[31] Icke tends to work with the same performers (a group that Natasha Tripney has dubbed "Team Icke")[32] including repeat collaborations with Lia Williams, Tobias Menzies, Juliet Stevenson, Jessica Brown Findlay, Luke Thompson, Lorna Brown, Daniel Rabin, Rudi Dharmalingham, Joshua Higgott, and Angus Wright.

Critical response

Lyn Gardner, in The Guardian, was the first mainstream critic to praise Icke's work. Reviewing his Headlong Romeo and Juliet, she wrote

From its opening moments, when a digital clock starts to count the minutes, Icke offers a story in which elements of time and fate are compressed and heightened. In places it's like Sliding Doors, suggesting alternative scenarios... It employs the cross-cutting techniques of movies and TV with startling aplomb, and plays on the drama's presentiments of disaster through dreams and hallucinations... It's terrific, and hails the arrival of some thrilling young actors and an impressive new director.[33]

Though he has failed to satisfy some of the conservative broadsheet critics, such as Dominic Cavendish, Icke has found favour with others, including Susannah Clapp in The Observer, who described him as "one of the most important forces in today’s theatre."[34]

Icke's work, according to Megan Vaughan, "is a sign that the UK’s once stuffy middle-class theatre culture is waking up to more exciting and less prescriptive techniques."[35]

Icke has been praised for successfully balancing technology and artistry in his work. Quentin Letts in The Sunday Times states, “Icke shows are never boring to watch. At a mere 32, he has become the most skilled (or perhaps least irritating) proponent of the ambient-noise/video-screen brigade. His Hamlet had CCTV in the corridors of Elsinore, and in his Mary Stuart, the two main actresses decided only at the start of each performance which of them would play which part. With other directors, this sort of thing can feel forced. With Icke, there is usually enough artistic truthfulness to get you over any grumpiness.”[36]



Icke became the youngest ever winner of the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director in 2016.

Icke was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in its "40 Under 40" initiative in June 2018.[37]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
2014 Laurence Olivier Award[38] Best New Play 1984 Nominated
2015 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award[39] Best Director Oresteia Won
Evening Standard Theatre Award[40] Best Director Won
2016 Laurence Olivier Award[41] Best Director Won
2019 Kurt Hübner award Orestie[42] Won
2019 Evening Standard Theatre Award[43] Best Director The Doctor and The Wild Duck Won
2020 Laurence Olivier Award[44] Best New Play The Doctor Nominated


  1. ^ "Andrew Scott in Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre – review round-up | Opinion | The Stage". The Stage. 2017-03-02. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  2. ^ Trueman, Matt (2016-02-17). "London Theater Review: 'Uncle Vanya' at the Almeida Theatre". Variety. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  3. ^ Armstrong, Stephen (2017-06-25). "Theatre tickets: where does the money go?". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  4. ^ "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 2017-07-12. Cite uses generic title (help)
  5. ^ a b Clapp, Susannah (23 August 2015). "Robert Icke, theatre director: 'Oresteia? It's quite like The Sopranos'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  6. ^ "Robert Icke: 'It's not impossible that theatre will die out'". Time Out London. 12 December 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Rupert Goold and Robert Icke interview on Greek season, modern theatre and finding each other". The Independent. 2015-05-23. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  8. ^ "Mr Burns divides the critics". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  9. ^ Maxwell, Dominic. "Oresteia at Almeida, N1". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  10. ^ "Mary Stuart to transfer to the West End". The Stage. 2017-06-20. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  11. ^ "GOSSIP: Andrew Scott to play Hamlet?". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  12. ^ Clapp, Susannah (March 5, 2017). "Hamlet review – Andrew Scott is a truly sweet prince". The Observer. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  13. ^ Kellaway, Kate (June 25, 2017). "Hamlet review – an all-consuming marvel". The Observer. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  14. ^ "Andrzej Lukowski: Andrew Scott's Hamlet on BBC proves theatre and TV compatible". The Stage. 2018-04-04. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  15. ^ Hemley, Matthew (2019-05-13). "Robert Icke to step down as associate director of the Almeida Theatre". The Stage. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  16. ^ Icke, Robert. "CV" (PDF).
  17. ^ "Robert Icke and Andrew Scott in Conversation". Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  18. ^ Harrison, Ellie. "Full list of Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2019 winners as Andrew Scott scoops best actor". Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  19. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  21. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "oedipus". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  26. ^ Ltd, Whitespace (Scotland) (2019-06-21). "Oedipus". Edinburgh International Festival. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  27. ^ "Robert Icke erhält Kurt-Hübner-Regiepreis 2019". Kulturradio (in German). 2018-12-21. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  28. ^ "Robert Icke: Greek hero". Evening Standard. 2015-12-10. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  29. ^ "Theatre's big names push for cheap tickets for young fans". Ticketing Technology News. 2017-06-15. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  30. ^ Maxwell, Dominic. "Robert Icke: 'I walk out of plays in the interval all the time'". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  31. ^ "Robert Icke's unofficial repertory company offers thrilling possibilities". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  32. ^ "Hamlet review at the Almeida Theatre, London". The Stage. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  33. ^ Gardner, Lyn (2012-02-08). "Romeo and Juliet – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  34. ^ Clapp, Susannah (2017-03-05). "Hamlet review – Andrew Scott is a truly sweet prince". The Observer. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  35. ^ "Megan Vaughan: I have a confession – I'm becoming obsessed with Robert Icke | Opinion | The Stage". The Stage. 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  36. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  37. ^ Flood, Alison (2018-06-28). "Royal Society of Literature admits 40 new fellows to address historical biases". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  38. ^ "Olivier Winners 2014". Olivier Awards. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  39. ^ "2015 Results | Critics' Circle Theatre Awards". 2016-11-28. Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  40. ^ Norum, Ben (2015-11-23). "Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2015: The full list of winners". Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  41. ^ "Olivier Winners 2016". Olivier Awards. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  42. ^ "Robert Icke erhält Kurt-Hübner-Regiepreis 2019". Kulturradio (in German). 2018-12-21. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  43. ^ Paskett, Zoe (2019-11-25). "The 2019 Evening Standard Theatre Awards winners in full". Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  44. ^ "Olivier Awards 2020 with Mastercard - Theatre's Biggest Night". Olivier Awards. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
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