Vicky Featherstone is beginning her tenure as the new artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre with an ambitious six week festival that looks both forwards to the future and back at the building’s history. Celebrating the central place that playwrights have always held within the theatre, Featherstone is handing the keys over to the writers and throwing open the doors, promising a “summer fling” that will be adventurous, challenging and ask the big questions.
Open Court, running from 10th June – 20th July, is being created and curated by a group of more than 140 writers, continuing the Royal Court’s commitment to presenting new voices and new forms. Speaking at the press briefing, Featherstone joked that “nothing is changing”, explaining her intention to keep playwrights at the core of the theatre’s artistic vision and let them lead the way. With this aim in mind, she approached the staff of the theatre for suggestions of writers they would like to see taking creative control, then inviting this pool of playwrights to take the reins over the summer.
Among the resulting programme of work will be a set of six plays in weekly rep in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, a nightly soap opera streamed live from the Bussey Building in Peckham, a series of surprise theatre experiences, a week dedicated to work made by children, a theatrical treasure hunt around the building, and the chance for audience members to hear playwrights read their own plays aloud. Provoked by Martin Crimp’s suggestion that theatremakers might be “scared of the big idea”, the theatre is also grappling with one big idea a week, curating short plays and events around themes such as sex, age and death.
Demonstrating a firm commitment to the future, Featherstone has invited playwright Anthony Nielson, known for his unconventional collaborative writing process, to explore new writing methods with six playwrights over the space of a fortnight. At the briefing, Nielson voiced concerns that theatre is not keeping up with the pace of change in the world, expressing his hope that new ways of working might help writers to “disable the inner censor”. The six writers taking part in this project are E.V. Crowe, Vivienne Franzmann, Robin French, Joel Horwood and DC Moore, with the results of the process to be presented in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs over three nights.
In the spirit of Featherstone’s motto that “no space should be safe from theatre”, even more events will be taking place outside the walls of the Royal Court. Continuing the Theatre Local scheme that was started under Dominic Cooke, US playwright Annie Barker will open her new play Circle Mirror Transformation, directed by James Macdonald, at the Rose Lipman Building in Haggerston from 5th July – 3rd August, while the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of David Greig’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart runs at the London Welsh Centre 12th July – 3rd August and then at the Bussey Building 5th – 9th August.
This varied and wide-reaching summer programme precedes Featherstone’s first full season of plays, commencing in September, which will be announced in June. When questioned, Featherstone revealed few details of her longer-time vision for the theatre, saying only that she has no plans to abandon full productions of new plays and that any change will be collaboratively led. Featherstone also announced her artistic team, with existing associate director Simon Godwin to be joined by Carrie Cracknell and John Tiffany. Lucy Davies, meanwhile, will be joining the Royal Court as executive director from the National Theatre of Wales.
At the briefing, Featherstone was joined on the stage of the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs by a selection of the many writers involved in this first season, immediately making a strong statement about the theatre’s continued commitment to new writing under her leadership. Among the writers in attendance was David Eldridge, who described Featherstone as “brave, terrific and playful”. The new artistic director’s hope is that this summer festival might be just as playful, eschewing consenus, asking both serious and frivolous questions, and promising a healthy dash of “naughtiness”.
For more information and full listings of the Open Court season, visit the Royal Court website.