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Vicky Featherstone announces inaugural 'Open Court' season at Royal Court

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New Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone has announced plans for her first season in charge of the venue, which begins in June.

Rather than being director-programmed, Featherstone has instead asked over 80 writers to create 'Open Court', a six-week season that will see a range of short plays and events being staged both in the Royal Court's Sloane Square home and at other venues in London.

Described today by Featherstone as a "summer fling", Open Court will feature a weekly repertory company performing six new plays on the main stage; a series of 'surprise theatre experiences' in the Theatre Upstairs; a chance to hear Royal Court playwrights read their plays aloud; a nightly soap opera at the Bussey Building in Peckham; and a weekly 'big idea', exploring sex, death, age, collaboration and European austerity.

Elsewhere, there will be a production of US playwright Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation at the Rose Lipman Building in Haggerston (5 July-3 August) starring Imelda Staunton and Toby Jones. And the National Theatre of Scotland - where Featherstone was founding artistic director before joining the Court - will bring its production of David Greig's The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart to the London Welsh Centre (12 July-3 August).

"When I got this job late last summer Dominic (Cooke) said to me 'my last play finishes in May, can you start programming straight away?' and I said 'absolutely not'," Featherstone said today. "So I went to the writers and asked them to fill this knotty problem of the summer."

She asked the staff of the Court to suggest writers they wanted to work with and invited the resultant 80 names to a 'town meeting' in February. "I stood in front of these writers who I'm deeply in awe of and said 'I want to give you the keys to the Royal Court,'" explained Featherstone.

Weekly rep

The idea of a weekly rep was suggested by veteran Royal Court playwright Caryl Churchill, and will see a new play being produced each week for six weeks by an ensemble of 14 actors and four directors, including Featherstone and new Royal Court associates John Tiffany and Carrie Cracknell.

Churchill said of the idea: "We often envy European theatres which have the money for rehearsals twice as long as ours. But there is a different and exhilarating skill to enjoy in getting a play on in a week - it's how actors used to develop their craft in theatres all over the country and the audience can get to know a company of actors and see them doing something different very week."

The six plays will be: Georgian writer Lasha Bughadze's The President Has Come To See You (11-15 June); New Yorker Lucas Hnath's Death Tax (18-22 June); Suhayla El-Bushra's Pigeons (25-29 June), about British multiculturalism; Clare Lizzimore's debut play Mint (2-6 July); US writer Nikole Beckwith's Untitled Matriarch Play (9-13 July); and Alistair McDowall's black comedy Talk Show (16-20 July).

The productions will run at 8pm Tuesday-Saturday (matinees on Saturday) with tickets, which go on sale on Monday, priced at £20/£12.

Surprise theatre & soap opera

The smaller Theatre Upstairs will host a variety of "surprise performances" from a "diverse and wide-ranging field of writers and theatre-makers".

Running on Mondays and Tuesdays, the one-off productions will remain a mystery to the audience until the moment the lights go down, described by Caryl Churchill as "a theatre of the unknown, a surprise theatre".

Meanwhile, Featherstone plans to continue her predecessor Dominic Cooke's Theatre Local scheme by bringing productions to other venues in London.

The Bussey Building in Peckham will host Soap Opera (1-13 July), in which the "lives and loves of Peckham locals will be played out and streamed live every night for two weeks in five minute episodes", inspired by an idea by playwright Lucy Kirkwood.

Each performance, created by a team of writers led by Bola Agbaje and Rachel De-lahay, will be performed live in front of a studio audience, culminating in a Saturday omnibus edition.

Big ideas

A series of 'big idea' plays and discussions, themed around sex, age and death, will take place on 14, 21 June and 12 July. The 'age' evening will include a playwriting workshop for the over 80s led by Penelope Skinner.

There will also be a series of verbatim performances exploring European austerity running under the title PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain), running from 25-29 June.

From 4-6 July six writers will work with writer and director Anthony Neilson to explore collaboration and what Neilson termed today "the most important working relationship in theatre, that between writers and actors."

Throughout the six-week season, audiences will be able to pick up headphones and explore the 'nooks and crannies' of the Royal Court's public areas on a "theatrical treasure hunt", suggested by playwright Archie Maddocks. There will be ten five minute plays concealed around the venue by writers including EV Crowe, Luke Norris and Abi Morgan.

And writers everywhere are being invited to submit 'Found Plays', that will "fill the building with hidden discoveries for audiences to find". See www.foundplays.co.uk for more information.

Open Court will culminate from 16-20 July with Kids Court, a week of plays, workshops and special events curated by young playwrights aged 8 to 11. Writers leading workshops for young people include Vivienne Franzmann and Nick Payne.

Vicky Featherstone said today that she will announce her first programmed season, which will open in September, in June.


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