Writers will have free rein for six weeks at the Royal Court this summer as Open Court, a programme of work inspired and driven by more than 140 scribes, consumes the Sloane Square venue.
The season, which will plug the gap between Dominic Cooke’s final season at the helm of the new writing venue and Featherstone’s first, will feature a rep-style series of shows, a live-streamed soap opera, a weekly big idea, surprises, intimate play readings and even a non-public 24 hour lock in when the writers will be left alone at the theatre to hopefully be creative and not wreck the historic venue.
The season, which runs from 10 June to 20 July, grew from Featherstone’s idea and suggestions from the Royal Court staff. “I asked each member of staff here to come up with three writers each that they would like to see take over at the Royal Court and the reasons why,” Featherstone explains. “I then invited the 80 writers to a town meeting on 14 February this year and met with a further 60 writers from all the Court’s writers’ programmes and laid down the challenge. I was going to give them the keys of the Royal Court for six weeks in the summer. What did they want to do with them?”
Royal Court regular Caryl Churchill proved the inspiration for the sextet of shows being performed by an ensemble cast over six weeks, taking its lead from the British tradition of repertory theatre. Among the shows being staged are absurd comedy The President Has Come To See You by Georgian Lasha Bughadze, dark comedy Death Tax by New Yorker Lucas Hnath, drama about multicultural Britain Pigeons by Suhayla El-Bushra, the debut play of director Claire Lizzimore, Mint, US playwright Nikole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play and Young Writers Programme graduate Alistair McDowall’s Talk Show.
Also inspired by Top Girls playwright Churchill, Surprise Theatre, which will run on Monday and Tuesday evenings, will keep details of what is in store to a minimum, hoping to recreate a lost feeling for audiences. Churchill explains: “Most of the time we go to the theatre having read a review or two, or seen the theatre’s flyer, or heard about the play from a friend. It can feel as if we are just sitting through the experience we more or less knew we were going to have – very different from that magic feeling, as children perhaps, of waiting for a curtain to go up and not knowing what was going to happen. I’ve often thought how I’d like a theatre where there was something different every night and you never knew what to expect. A theatre of the unknown, a surprise theatre.”
The second of each night’s performances will be live-streamed, as will Soap Opera which, spearheaded by Gone To Far writer Bola Agbaje and The Westbridge’s Rachel De-lahay, will comprise daily five minute episodes written by different playwrights and performed by members of the Peckham community in front of a live studio audience.
Other surprises in store as part of the season include the chance to have a play read to you by its playwright and a theatrical treasure hunt that will take audiences around the Royal Court building while listening to short plays on headphones.
The season will also see playwrights turning their attention to exploring big ideas including sex, age and death, a link up with playwrights from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain to explore reactions to European austerity, a group of writers working with Narrative creator Anthony Neilson to think about new ways of working and a final week where children will very much control the Royal Court.
Speaking about the season, playwright Simon Stephens, whose adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is up for Best New Play at the Olivier Awards with MasterCard next weekend, said: “The energy and attack of Open Court is not only urgent but manages to feel both fresh and at the same time steeped in the metabolism of that extraordinary history. It’s like nothing else the Royal Court has staged before, which, at its best, is what the Royal Court has always done.”
In addition to the exciting and eclectic season, Featherstone also announced today that Carrie Cracknell, director of Young Vic hit A Doll’s House, and John Tiffany, who directs hit musical Once, would join the Royal Court as Associate Directors, joining current Associate Simon Godwin.