Born in Kingston Jamaica, Yvonne Brewster came to the UK to study speech, drama and mime at the Rose Bruford College and the Royal Academy of Music. She was a pupil of Marcel Marceau. Subsequently she returned to Jamaica where she taught drama and produced and presented her own shows on radio and television. Yvonne collaborated with Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone to create The Barn – Jamaica’s first professional theatre company which is still thriving as a producing theatre today, 35 years after its initial foundation. She worked on many films, among them The Harder They Come, Smile Orange and The Marijuana Affair, and for BBC TV The Fight Against Slavery and My Father Sun Sun Johnson.
Since being based in Britain, Yvonne has undertaken a vast variety of directorial work in all media ranging from the first ever black production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Opera House, Newcastle, to a two-hander by Derek Walcott, Pantomime in a pub. She’s taken on contemporary classics for established regional repertory companies, and in Autumn 1991 directed Lorca’s Blood Wedding for the Royal National Theatre. Her work has been internationally acclaimed, and her skills have been employed by companies across Europe and into North America.
As one of Britain’s best established and most respected black theatre directors, Yvonne was until February 2003 Artistic Director of the country’s leading black theatre company Talawa, which she established in 1985 together with Mona Hammond, Inigo Espegel and Carmen Munroe. During the past fifteen years she has directed a succession of ground-breaking productions for Talawa ranging from Wole Soyinka’s The Road to Shakespeare’s King Lear, John Ford’s ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore’, To Rahtid by Sol B River (part of Talawa’s Zebra Crossing season of new writing) and Medea In The Mirror by Cuban playwright José Triana, the Trinidadian farce Beef, No Chicken by Derek Walcott at the Tricycle Theatre, Flying West by celebrated African-American playwright Pearl Cleage, and an Othello based on African-American personalities, General Colin Powell and O.J Simpson.
Yvonne, along with a number of international theatre directors, was invited to participate in the inaugural workshop season at Sam Wannamaker’s New Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. In Autumn 1995, Yvonne directed for the BBC a re-working of Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame starring Trevor Macdonald and the late Sir Robert Stephens. This was followed by Romeo and Juliet for BBC TV. At the end of the year, Yvonne fulfilled a commission to direct Harold Pinter’s The Lover in Florence at the Teatro della Limonaia. In the USA she directed Ti Jean and His Brothers at University of California Davis as Artist in Residence, and Femi Euba’s The Eye of Gabriel in Baton Rouge Louisiana.
Yvonne has served on the British Council’s Drama and Dance Advisory Committee, the Gulbenkian Enquiry into Director Training in Britain, and on the Boards of the Black Theatre Forum, the London Arts Board (for 8 years) and The Theatres Trust. She is proud to be Patron of her alma mater Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She was delighted to receive the Living Legend Award from the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem North Carolina and an Arts Council Woman of Achievement Award. In the 1993 New Years Honours list, Yvonne received an OBE for Services to the Arts.
It has been an era of dramatic experiment which has seen Talawa become acknowledged as the nation’s foremost black theatre company. Yvonne’s tradition of dramatic experiment and dynamic modernity serves her goal of always seeking to engage both actors and audience by the application of a bold, inventive, and exciting approach to theatre.