Edward Kemp was born in Oxford and grew up in Worcester, Yorkshire and Chichester. He trained with the National Youth Theatre and read English Language and Literature at New College Oxford, where he acted in numerous productions, directed two of his own plays, as well as John Whiting’s The Devils and Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors and Twelfth Night (the latter in the Oxford Playhouse).
He wrote his first full-length play, The Iron And The Oak at the age of 15. This won Most Promising Playwright in the first Texaco/National Youth Theatre playwriting competition and was performed in the first season of the Chichester Festival Theatre Tent. Two more plays, Counterparts and A Proper Place both won Prizes in Texaco Competition, the latter being staged by the National Youth Theatre.
After university, and following a brief spell as Dramaturg at the National Youth Theatre, Edward became an Assistant Director at the Chichester Festival Theatre. He assisted Kenneth Ives and Tony Britton on Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (with a cast including Joanna Lumley and June Whitfield) and directed his own adaptation of Brecht’s adaptation of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer in The Tent. He then went to work with Anthony Quayle’s Compass Theatre where he assisted on productions of The Government Inspector and The Royal Hunt Of The Sun and founded the company’s education and community wing. In 1990 he returned to Chichester in 1990 to work with Peter Wood on The Silver King with Alan Howard and Sir Peter Hall on Born Again with Mandy Patinkin.
From 1991-6 he was Staff Director at the Royal National Theatre working with Steven Pimlott on The Miser, Roger Michell on The Coup, Alan Ayckbourn on Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays, Phyllida Lloyd on Pericles, What The Butler Saw and The Way Of The World (for which he was also dramaturg),Richard Eyre on The Prince’s Play, John Gabriel Borkman and Nicholas Hytner on The Madness of George III, The Recruiting Officer, Carousel and The Wind In The Willows. He directed revivals of both The Wind In The Willows and The Madness Of George III, and the US tour of the latter.
While working at the National he met the actor Toby Jones and they embarked on a number of collaborations, including a workshop of the theatre of Alfred Jarry at the National Theatre Studio and two Molière adaptations for the West Yorkshire Playhouse. This work eventually developed into the company, The Table Show.
In 1996 Edward left the National to join Katie Mitchell’s RSC production of The Mysteries as Dramaturg (the first time the position had existed at the company). This work occupied much of the next two years. He briefly returned to the National in 1998 as Associate Director on Richard Eyre’s final production as Artistic Director, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, which he transfered to the Lyttelton and then the West End. Since then he has worked as a freelance writer and director.
As a director his work includes Marlow's Doctor Faustus with Samuel West and Michael Feast, Anouilh's Wild Orchids (Leocadia) with Patricia Routledge, Peter Whelan's The Accrington Pals (Chichester),Neil Monaghan's Beautiful People (Scarborough),Heiner Muller’s Mommsen’s Block, Gertrude Stein’s Dr Faustus Lights the Lights (Vermont),As I Lay Dying (Louisiana),The Cherry Orchard, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Romeo & Juliet, King John, King Lear, The Comedy Of Errors, Twelfth Night, John Whiting's The Devils, Brecht’s Fear and Misery in the Third Reich, Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis. For The Table Show, he has directed The Reprieve (Battersea Arts Centre),Coventry (National Theatre),Wanted Man (Battersea Arts Centre, Edinburgh Fringe, British Council, New Zealand, Budapest) and Missing Reel (West Yorkshire Playhouse, Traverse, Edinburgh). He has also directed numerous short operas and a number of large-scale 'events', including award ceremonies for the National Theatre.
Writing includes five adaptations in French for Théâtre Sans Frontières, a dramatisation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for the Young Vic and radio adaptations of The Mysteries and WG Sebald’s The Emigrants. He has written numerous short opera libretti, including for both the Royal Opera House and ENO Studios, and a screenplay of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. He adapted Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet for the 2007 Manchester International Festival with the composer Victoria Borisova Ollas and forces including Alan Rickman and the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Mark Elder and directed by Mark Elder. His opera with Julian Phillips, The Yellow Sofa, was commissioned and premiered at the Glyndebourne Festival in 2009. In 2000 he was first writer in residence at the Cove Park artists’ centre on the west coast of Scotland, for whom he created a sound installation and numerous pieces of environmental art. With The Table Show he has created Word on the Street, a mile long text work for Lavender Hill in Battersea.
From 2003 – 2005 he was Dramaturg of the Chichester Festival Theatre, translating Lessing’s Nathan The Wise, adapting Bulgakov’s The Master And Margarita, writing the book for the musical Six Pictures Of Lee Miller and writing 5/11
He has collaborated with the choreographer Cathy Marston, now Director of the Bern Ballet, on numerous ballet scenarios, including Ghosts (ROH2),A Tale of Two Cities (NBT),Firebird, Sturmhohe, Julia und Romeo, Clara, Ein Winternachtstraum (Bern Ballet),Blood Wedding (Helsinki Ballet) and wrote the libretto of the opera/ballet Echo and Narcissus with music by Stuart MacRae (ROH2).
He has taught both theatre and creative writing on both sides of the Atlantic, including at the Guildhall and Central Drama Schools, Trinity College of Music and the Royal College of Art, and for the National Theatre, Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne Education Departments.
In September 2007 he became the first Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA),taking on the role of Academy Director in March 2008. In addition to running the Academy, he has taught classes on numerous acting and technical courses and directed productions of Kleist's Penthesilea (in his own adaptation),Sondheim's Company and Noel Coward's The Young Idea.
He lives in London with his partner, the designer Jane Heather, and their two children.