Lan, David

David Lan CBE is a playwright, director, and social anthropologist who was born in 1952 in Cape Town, South Africa, to a family of Lithuanian-Jewish origin. He trained as an actor and gained a B.A. from Cape Town University. Since 1972 he has been based in London. In 1984, he received a PhD in social anthropology.

Lan has written and directed a number of plays and adaptations (notably of Joshua Sobol’s Ghetto, set in wartime Vilnius). From 1995 to 1997, he was a Writer-in-Residence at the Royal Court Theatre. His play The Ends of the Earth was staged at the National Theatre in 1996 and dramatises his experience of being ambushed and kidnapped by guerrillas.

Lan was artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre from 2000 to 2017. Under his aegis, the Young Vic produced important plays, involving directors and writers Peter Brook, Katie Mitchell, Joe Wright, Luc Bondy, Martin Crimp, and Ivo van Hove and frequently employed star casts, including Sienna Miller and Jude Law. Lan is also well known for his collaboration with playwright Caryl Churchill on A Mouthful of Birds (1986). His 2016 revival of Yerma, directed by Simon Stone and starring Billie Piper, won two Olivier Awards.

Lan is currently heading the Belarus Free Theatre and is artistic associate of the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center in New York. He is an ouspoken critic of current Israeli policy. In 2002, discussing his decision to stage a play called Alive from Palestine: Stories under Occupation, he told the Independent “the government of Israel had a strategy which I recognised from my experience in South Africa, which involves the destruction not only of the political entity [of Palestine] but also the social and cultural entities”. In 2015, he signed an Artists for Palestine letter to the Daily Mail, which protested against a piece the newspaper had run about a planned tour by a Palestinian theatre company of a play called The Siege.

Lan was Theatre Associate at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in 2020-2021. His memoir As If By Chance: Journeys, Theatrre, Lives was published in 2020.

Lan co-directs The Walk Productions with Tracey Seaward. Together, they produced The Walk which ran from July to November 2021 and received the 2021 Time Out Best Public Theatre Award.

Throughout his career Lan has produced more than 200 shows and was awarded a CBE for services to theatre in 2014.


—. Plays: 1: Painting a Wall; Red Earth; Flight; Desire; The Ends of the Earth. London: Methuen Drama, 1999.

—. La Lupa. London: Methuen Drama, 2000.

—. Tobias and the Angel. London: Oberon Books, 2006.