Royal Court Faces £3m Liquidation ThreatDate: 1 December 1998
The Royal Court is facing a wrangle over sponsorship which, if unresolved, could see the theatre's liquidation by next May. For the past two years, the Court's Sloane Square home has been closed for a refurbishment costing £25.8m, £18.8m of which was funded by a National Lottery grant on the condition that the Royal Court matched £7m through private donations. To date, the theatre has raised £4m, but time is running out on the remaining £3m.
Earlier last month, it looked as though the Royal Court might be saved by the Jerwood Foundation, a charitable arts body founded by the late businessman John Jerwood who died in 1991. The Jerwood already sponsors the Royal Court's New Writers Season. But the Jerwood's recent offer has provoked controversy because of its insistence that the donation should be acknowledged by changing the theatre's name to the Jerwood Royal Court.
Buckingham Palace responded last week - and rumour has it that the Queen personally intervened - by saying that protocol forbids the insertion of any corporate or foundation name before the word 'royal'. According to the Guardian newspaper, the theatre and the charity are now considering the alternative name the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre.
But even this suggestion angers writers, such as Caryl Churchill who has had many plays premiered at the Royal Court. They do not believe that the theatre's name should be changed in any way, and particularly not if the foundation name will appear on the outside of the building. They have proposed naming one of the auditoria after the sponsor but not the theatre itself.
As it stands, the Sloane Square refurbishment is grossly over-budget and overdue. A Royal Court spokesman told What's On Stage that, even if funding is found, the venue will not be fully operational until sometime in autumn 1999. The Royal Court's two spaces - the Royal Court Downstairs and Royal Court Upstairs - have been resident in the West End at the Duke of York's and Ambassadors theatres for the past two years. The West End residency has been critically and commercially acclaimed, with hits such as Conor McPherson's The Weir, Martin McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, Churchill's Blue Heart, David Hare's Via Dolorosa and Nick Grosso's Real Classy Affair drawing in the crowds.
But now, with its Sloane Square home unfinished and its future uncertain, the Royal Court is having to wind down its programming. Since the opening in October of The Weir - in its third London incarnation and its first open-ended commercial run - at the Duke of York's, the Royal Court Downstairs has effectively ceased to exist. No new productions will be planned until the reopening of the theatre in its Sloane Square home. If the funding crisis is resolved, that is.
The Royal Court Upstairs new spring season at the Ambassadors is due to be announced shortly.