Robert Icke

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Robert Icke
BornRobert William Icke
29 November 1986 (1986-11-29) (age 32)
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]

He is currently the Associate Director of London's Almeida Theatre.[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[edit]

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 started 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 Cambridge University, 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[edit]

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 BBC2 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]

Other work[edit]

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[16], starring Hans Kesting and Marieke Heebink. This production was selected for the Dutch Theatre Festival 2018 and played at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2019.[17]


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."[18]

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.”[19] He courted controversy in 2016 by admitting that he thought audiences should leave plays in the interval if they found them boring.[20]

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."[21] Icke tends to work with the same performers (a group that Natasha Tripney has dubbed "Team Icke"[22]) 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[edit]

Lyn Gardner 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.[23]

Though he has failed to satisfy some of the conservative broadsheet critics, most notably Dominic Cavendish, Icke has found favour with many others, including Susannah Clapp, who describes him as "one of the most important forces in today’s theatre."[24]

His 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."[25]

Awards and honours[edit]


Published works[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  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.
  5. ^ a b Clapp, Interview by Susannah (2015-08-23). "Robert Icke, theatre director: 'Oresteia? It's quite like The Sopranos'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  6. ^ "Robert Icke: 'It's not impossible that theatre will die out'". Time Out London. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  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. ^ "oedipus". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  17. ^ Ltd, Whitespace (Scotland) (2019-06-21). "Oedipus". Edinburgh International Festival. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  18. ^ "Robert Icke: Greek hero". Evening Standard. 2015-12-10. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  19. ^ "Theatre's big names push for cheap tickets for young fans". Ticketing Technology News. 2017-06-15. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  20. ^ Maxwell, Dominic. "Robert Icke: 'I walk out of plays in the interval all the time'". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  21. ^ "Robert Icke's unofficial repertory company offers thrilling possibilities". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  22. ^ "Hamlet review at the Almeida Theatre, London". The Stage. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  23. ^ Gardner, Lyn (2012-02-08). "Romeo and Juliet – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  24. ^ Clapp, Susannah (2017-03-05). "Hamlet review – Andrew Scott is a truly sweet prince". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  25. ^ "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.
  26. ^ Flood, Alison (2018-06-28). "Royal Society of Literature admits 40 new fellows to address historical biases". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  27. ^ "Robert Icke erhält Kurt-Hübner-Regiepreis 2019". Kulturradio (in German). 2018-12-21. Retrieved 2019-03-17.