I love the theatre and go quite often, yet somehow I’d never made it to the legendary Royal Court Theatre – until last night. It’s long been on my To Do list, as I’ve read a lot of great things about the support they give to new writers. My curiosity was peaked further during the recent Sundance London film festival, when I found out that one of the great shorts I’d seen was based on a play that the screenwriter had stumbled upon at the Royal Court.
To me, conversations about this seemingly-hallowed ground of bubbling creativity, always conjured up images of a very grand space – a cross between the Royal Opera House and the open air amphitheatre in Regents Park. So I was very excited to be invited to the first night of its ‘Open Court‘ season, last night – finally, I would get to experience the great Royal Court for myself!
Open Court is the brainchild of the new artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, who describes it as her ‘handing over the building to the playwrights’, in order to capture what the Royal Court is all about. The writers and the audience. All of the plays, ideas and events over the next six weeks (10 June – 20 July) have been chosen and suggested by a group of over 140 writers.
Open Court is jam-packed with shows and events – from the Weekly Rep, where a new play will be produced every week over those six weeks, and performed by the same cast of characters; to a mini-soap opera being produced in conjunction with one of their partner organisations, the Bussey Building in Peckham, which will be performed by local residents in front of a studio audience and live streamed. Last night, I saw the first Weekly Rep – The President Has Come To See You – a quirky comedy set in the country of Georgia, with a couple of stand-out acting performances and some clever writing and directing. That, coupled with the Open Court launch party that followed, saw Royal Court packed to the rafters, with young and old alike, in a much more accessible, modern and relaxed environment than I’d imagined it would be.
As my friend Catrin and I enjoyed the free vodkas provided by one of the event sponsors, we found ourselves next to a group of lovely senior citizens. Chatting to them revealed that they were from the Open Court’s ‘Eighty and Over’ strand. After sending in examples of their writing, they had each won one of the limited places to develop a play as part of the season. So they had spent every Wednesday for the last four weeks workshopping script ideas and writing and their resulting play, The Big Idea, will be on next Friday, 21st June. One 84 year old gentleman used to be a furniture restorer and didn’t start writing until he retired four years ago, at 80. Amazing!
Despite this being my first time at the Royal Court, even I can feel that Vicky Featherstone has brought a new lease of life to the organisation. Since she joined in January, they’ve already done their first live stream of a play, with more to come during Open Court, and beyond no doubt. Her speech was short but perfectly formed, conveying her inclusive attitude, as well as her passion and appreciation for the arts and for everyone involved in the event – from every member of staff, to the writers – many of whom she could name check – to the sponsors. And the nod to the sponsors was genuine, rather than perfunctory as it often is. For, as she pointed out, with so many cuts in the arts, without generous private sponsors, these shows really wouldn’t go on.
A great start to what looks like a great season at the Royal Court, polished off nicely by a DJ playing brilliant tunes. Actors, writers, audience members, sponsors and Royal Court employees all took to the dance floor for a well deserved boogie. I don’t think I could have had a better introduction to the Royal Court Theatre. There is absolutely no doubt that I will be back there soon.