The hole in the Royal Court’s year-long 50th anniversary celebrations, left by playwright Caryl Churchill withdrawal of permission to revive her Cloud Nine (See News, 24 Nov 2005), will be filled by the world premiere of the latest by Mojo’s Jez Butterworth. The Winterling, Butterworth’s first new play in four years, will open on 9 March 2006 (previews from 2 March) at the Royal Court Downstairs, where it will continue until 8 April.

In rural Devon, one man in a barn is visited by two men from London, intent on dealing with some unfinished business. Only two men will leave the barn. The Winterling will be directed by Court artistic director Ian Rickson, who was due to direct the Churchill revival and who has also directed Butterworth’s two other plays for the Royal Court, 1995’s Mojo and 2002’s The Night Heron.

For Mojo, Butterworth’s stage debut, he won the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright, the Writers' Guild New Writer of the Year Award, the Evening Standard Award for the Most Promising Playwright and the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. He went on to write a screen version of the play and the film Birthday Girl, which starred Ben Chaplin and Nicole Kidman. No casting has yet been confirmed for The Winterling.

Since Owners in 1972, Churchill has had more than 15 of her plays presented at the Royal Court including premieres of Top Girls - a drama school production of which will go ahead as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, as scheduled - Fen, Serious Money, Blue Heart, Far Away and, most recently, 2002’s A Number, which starred Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig directed by Rickson.

There were rumours that Churchill withdrew Cloud Nine because she disapproved of the inclusion of Court newcomer Tom Stoppard - premiering his play Rock ‘n’ Roll in a production directed by Trevor Nunn, who also has no history with the Sloane Square landmark – as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. The official reason given was that she is in the process of writing a new play and found the prospect of a major revival, with which she would have wanted to be involved, too distracting.

A Royal Court spokesman reiterated this week that Churchill’s actions should not be perceived as a snub. While he acknowledged that she may have private misgivings about Stoppard’s involvement, she has not spoken publicly about them and, according to the spokesman, “Caryl would not ever use her work to censor the work of another writer.”

However, another Court veteran, William Gaskill, who was the theatre’s artistic director from 1965 to 1972, has made no secret of his disapproval and as a result has cancelled Sirens, his own adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which he was due to direct as part of the anniversary later in the year. The Court spokesman told “Bill was unhappy with the policy of the Royal Court to put on a play by Tom Stoppard, who he did not feel was a Royal Court writer. That’s his own personal feeling, and on the back of that he decided to withdraw his play from the 50th anniversary. Bill makes gestures, that’s what he’s done here.”

A replacement for Sirens has not yet been scheduled. Other highlights of the Royal Court’s milestone celebrations include: playwright Harold Pinter performing Samuel Beckett’s one-man Krapp’s Last Tape; the returns of former Royal Court artistic directors Max Stafford-Clark, Anthony Page and Stephen Daldry; new plays by contemporary playwrights Stella Feehily, Tanika Gupta, Simon Farquhar, Christopher Shinn, Marina Carr and Simon Stephens; a ten-week season of rehearsed readings of landmark productions from the Court’s history; and a one-off performance of John Osborne’s groundbreaking Look Back in Anger on 8 May 2006, 50 years to the day after it had its world premiere two months after the English Stage Company set up residence at the Court (See News, 11 Oct 2005).

- by Terri Paddock