David Lan

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For Hong Kong politician, see David Lan (politician).
David Lan, Artistic Director of the Young Vic. Photo by David Sandison.

David Mark Lan (born 1 June 1952) is a South African-born British playwright, filmmaker, theatre director and social anthropologist.

Born in Cape Town, he trained as an actor and gained a BA at the University of Cape Town. He has lived in London since 1972, apart from two years in Zimbabwe 1980–1982. He was awarded a BSc first class (1976) and a PhD (1984) in Social Anthropology from LSE.

He was appointed artistic director of the Young Vic theatre in London in 2000.

Between 2013 and 2015 he was also Consulting Artistic Director of the soon to be built Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center in New York.


He was writer in residence at the Royal Court Theatre from 1995 to 1997.

At the Young Vic, he led the campaign to rebuild the theatre (architects Haworth Tompkins) which reopened to acclaim in October 2006, being named RIBA London Building of the Year and short-listed for the Sterling Prize as well as winning many other awards. He also led the 24 shows in 31 cities 'Walkabout' season during the 2-year rebuild.

He has produced more than 200 shows including new plays by Tarrel McCraney, Jon Fosse, debbie tucker green, Martin Crimp, Tony Kushner, Rufus Norris, Dennis Kelly, Nathaniel Martello-White, Charlene James; adaptations by Simon Stephens, David Harrower, David Greig, Alexandra Wood, Colin Teevan, Tanya Ronder; new operas by Jonathan Dove, Olga Neuwirth, Harrison Birtwistle; directed by Richard Jones, Rufus Norris, Patrice Chéreau, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, Peter Brook, Ian Rickson, Declan Donnellan, Luc Bondy, Benedict Andrews, Ivo Van Hove, Carrie Cracknell, Natalie Abrahami, Joe Hill-Gibbins, David Harradine, Daniel Kramer, Matthew Dunster, Sacha Wares, Sound and Fury, Kathryn Hunter, Amir Nizar Zuabi, Josette Bushell-Mingo, the Belarus Free Theatre, Katie Mitchell, Diane Paulus, Mark Dornford May, Fiona Shaw, Bijan Sheibani, Matthew Xia, Walter Meierjohann, John Fulljames, Simon Stone, Gbolahan Obisesan and others.

As well as commissioning leading younger UK theatre designers such as Miriam Buether, Jeremy Herbert, Katrina Lindsay, Richard Hudson, Dick Bird, Patrick Burnier, Lizzie Clachan, Nicky Gillibrand, Ultz, Ian McNeil, Joane Scotcher and Chloe Lamford, he has invited a number of European designers including Richard Peduzzi, Johannes Schütz, Borkur Jonsson, Karl-Ernst Hermann, Moidele Bickel, Jan Versveyveld, Steffi Wurster, An d'Huys, Magda Willi, Caroline de Vivaise and Victoria Behr as well as the Australian Alice Babidge.

He initiated the Genesis Directors' Project, the Jerwood Directors Award and the Young Vic Award.

In addition to his many plays, libretti, and films, he published an anthropological study after two years of field research in the Zambezi Valley in the extreme north of Zimbabwe. Guns and Rain: Guerrillas & Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe (1985) [1] describes the influence of religious practice on Zimbabwe's struggle for independence from colonial rule. It has been described as 'a classic of modern anthropology' and is taught in universities all over the world. Some of his stage works reflect his interest in politics and religion, including spirit possession and cargo cults.

He has written, directed and produced documentaries for the BBC, mostly made in African countries, but also a 'fly on the wall' account of the redesign of the Royal Court Theatre which he filmed himself over the course of a year.

He was co-director of the 'Young Genius' season at the Barbican in 2005 and of 'World Stages London' at theatres across London in 2012.

He currently chairs the Belarus Free Theatre and is on the boards of the Motley Theatre Design School and Good Chance Theatre.

Lan was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to theatre.[2]

Stage works[edit]

  • Ion, libretto for the opera by Param Vir (2000) Aldeburgh
  • Tobias and the Angel, libretto for the opera by Jonathan Dove (1999 Almeida Theatre, 2006 Young Vic)
  • The Ends of the Earth (1996) National Theatre
  • "Charley Tango" (1995) BBC Radio 4 and World Service
  • Desire (1990) Almeida Theatre
  • A Mouthful of Birds, with Caryl Churchill (1986) Joint Stock/Royal Court
  • Flight (1986) RSC
  • Sergeant Ola And His Followers (1979) Royal Court
  • Red Earth (1978) ICA
  • The Winter Dancers (1977) Royal Court
  • Not in Norwich (1977) Royal Court
  • Paradise (1975) Royal Court
  • Homage To Been Soup (1975) Royal Court
  • Painting A Wall (1974) Almost Free Theatre
  • Bird Child (1974) Royal Court



  • The Sunday Judge (1985) Writer BBC, filmed in Mozambique
  • Dark City (1990) Writer BBC Films, filmed in South Africa
  • Welcome Home Comrades (1990) Writer BBC, filmed in Namibia
  • Artist Unknown (1995) Writer, producer, director BBC Omnibus, filmed in Nigeria
  • Royal Court Diaries (1996) Cameraman, director, co-producer BBC Omnibus

Productions as director include[edit]

  • "Blackta" by Nathaniel Martello-White (2012)
  • "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" by August Wilson (2010)
  • "As You Like It" by Shakespeare (2006)
  • "The Skin of Our Teeth" by Thornton Wilder (2004)
  • A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry (2003 and 2005)
  • "The Daughter-in-Law" by D H Lawrence (2002)
  • Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (2002)
  • "Julius Caesar" by Shakespeare (2000)
  • 'Tis Pity She's a Whore by John Ford (1999)
  • "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams (1998)


In 2014 he was awarded a CBE.[3] He has received the John Whiting Award and the George Orwell Award. He received an Olivier Award for the entire 2004 Young Vic season. He was awarded an honorary D.Litt for services to theatre and community by the University of the South Bank (2010). In the 2016 survey in The Stage of the 100 most influential people in the UK theatre, he was ranked 6th.[4]


External links[edit]