The Royal Court’s Living Newspaper series has been a sprawling, kaleidoscopic whirlwind of theatrical entertainment and commentary. Beginning in the late 2020, each weekly ‘edition’ has invited a new, writer-led creative team to take over the Court and make rapid-response work. The filmed pieces – or ‘stories’ – then land in your inbox over the course of a week. Or, you can digest them all in a single, intense sitting – which is what I did for Edition 7.
This final instalment is a little different; it’s written by brand new, never-before-heard writers aged 14-21. These voices truly are hot off the press. I ‘open’ the front page, and am met by what feels like a bucket of cold water over the head – vibrant, excitable youth, buzzing with energy. A host of fresh-faced performers against striking, coloured spotlights (lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun) are bringing me ‘Lockdown FM’ – a shifting blend of song and rap (composed by Renell Shaw) lamenting the impacts of lockdown(s) on young people. Lines like ‘full fees for empty hallways’, ‘broke the rule of six tryna get my social fix’, and images of being ‘frozen in time’ highlight the very specific frustrations of losing a year of your life when your life hasn’t properly begun yet. I feel empathy at their losses, wondering how I would have coped with all this at their age. Even so, there’s a message of positivity as they shout of ‘hope for a better tomorrow’. It’s also catchy. Four minutes in I find myself shamelessly singing along (and feeling old while I do it).
What follows is a twisting, turning experience directed and facilitated by a whole team of Royal Court-ers (including but not limited to artistic director Vicky Featherstone, literary associate Myah Jeffers, and participation facilitator Ellie Fulcher). Edition 7 ambitiously attacks everything from love to social class, body image to alcoholism, race to identity politics. It’s this smorgasbord of topics which makes it challenging to consider it as a whole – but actually, I think that’s ok. The expansive ideas are part of its rough beauty.
Beyond Touch (of a) Screen, written by Blessing Adetunji, tackles the fear of returning to normal life, almost callously reminding us that ‘the deadline to be socially acceptable is June 21st’. A young couple (Kemi Awoderu, Tyrone Huntley), stand distanced outside the Court, anxious about how to translate their connection to the real world. The scene shifts, and we see their bodies moving fluidly (gorgeous movement direction from Yami Lövfenberg) against soft hues of blue and pink (design by the Design Collective, led in this edition by Shankho Chaudhuri and Zoë Hurwitz). Their voices over the top speak of the crippling insecurities of emerging from lockdown, acknowledging a vice many of us have turned to – stress-eating – and the nervousness around bringing that body back into the public sphere. It’s something many can relate to, although the tongue-in-cheek line, ‘call me a bakery as rolls unfold’ is perhaps slightly diluted by watching a performer with quite literally not a roll in sight. But Adentuji’s is a touching, lyrically-penned piece.
Naomi Lundie-Smith’s Summer Friends, performed captivatingly by Jemima Mayala, brings us on a journey to the end of the Victoria line on a sweaty, late-summer day. Sound design by Helen Atkinson and Tony Gayle plonks me right there on the tube with her. The piece beautifully captures that feeling of being young and having the long expanse of summer stretching out endlessly before you, when anything and everything feels possible – but then it’s over. The character bemoans her fear of returning to school (which we are led to believe is a scholarship place in a private school), and having to get her hair ‘relaxed, straight, right as a pin again’, in an attempt to fit in. It’s a lovely, atmospheric piece tinged with sadness. Tyreke Leslie’s Heartland taps amusingly and satisfyingly into the pain and chaos of young love. Leslie’s energetic words and unruly performance are punctuated by a background of sugary-sweet pinks and reds and frantic, unpredictable drumbeats (bashed out by Remi Graves) reminiscent of crush-induced heart palpitations.
It’s impossible for me to talk about every part of Edition 7 – but it is, undoubtedly, a wonderfully collaborative work. What strikes me is the raw honesty of each piece; the sense of peeling something back to reveal what’s really underneath. Fatima Kazmi’s Drunk in the Dream Wave portrays a young girl (Yasemin Ozdemir) navigating a nightmare/dreamscape as she unpicks her life coping with a parent plagued by alcoholism. Despite its final message of redemption, I’m left feeling worried – I hope that, if this piece is inspired by somebody real, they’re doing ok and have someone to take care of them.
Edition 7 leaves me feeling a little dissatisfied, and a lot like I want to be in the Royal Court, experiencing this noisy, shiny theatrical chaos first-hand rather than through a screen. But it also leaves me with a feeling of hope; hope that the future of theatre lies in the hands of young artists with boundless resources of ambition, vitality, and desire for change.
Living Newspaper Edition 7 is available to watch online until 9th May. More info and tickets here.