The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out
By Ruth Little and Emily McLaughlin
Oberon Books £20
Dateline: 17th December, 2007
It is fitting that there is more than one book to celebrate the immense
achievements of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court during
its first 50 years. This volume, which has some of the characteristics
of a colourful brick, at least in weight and shape, complements Harriet
Devine's Looking Back with a very different
intent and style.
The overarching structure is entirely chronological, primarily divided
up by artistic directors and then significant plays from the Court's
Starting with the period before George Devine opened the theatre, it
features extracts from interviews and detailed research in an effort
to give an overall picture of this historic institution. At times, the
research is a little too academic for what has always been a lively
venue, the footnotes giving numerous sources eventually almost equalling
the number of pages, 479.
The authors have enlisted the help of so many people who have been
intimately involved with the life of the Royal Court. This includes
writers, directors, designers and even front of house staff, which is
a fitting tribute to the all-round efforts of the staff of the theatre
that has often been run almost as a collective with a stronger team
ethos than almost any other London artistic or business organisation.
Over the years, politics have been at least as important as plays on
so many occasions, frequently because of lack of funds but also as a
result of the nature of a theatre that is naturally left wing in inclination
but is also oppositional, often internally as much as externally, thanks
to a series of strong characters only too happy to challenge any given.
Over the years, debate has raged over the validity of Look Back
in Anger, Saved, Blasted and in a very different way,
Rock 'n' Roll, which many suggested should not have been included
in the Jubilee celebrations as neither Sir Trevor Nunn or Sir Tom Stoppard
had a track record at the theatre.
In addition to the linear history, 100 or more plays are analysed to
varying degrees using commentary from the authors, directors and assorted
others involved with productions building a picture that comprehensively
covers the commissioning, development and writing of many works and
gives at least a feel for the text.
The concentration is though very much on the underlying ideas and thought
processes rather than the detailed plotting or staging. It might also
have been helpful to have more references to the actors who performed
in the plays and the way in which they did so.
This element presents a good overall picture of the development of
the theatre from the very earliest days of Angus Wilson's The Mulberry
Bush and soon afterwards Look Back in Anger, to the plays
that completed the Jubilee celebrations, Ian Rickson's unforgettable
revivals of Krapp's Last Tape
impeccably delivered by Harold Pinter in the Upstairs space and The
Seagull, Downstairs with Kristin Scott Thomas, Chiwetel Ejiofor
and Mackenzie Crook.
Interspersed with these are short essays on pink pages about numerous
topics such as Stage and Design, the Young Writers Programme, Casting,
Script Meetings and international outreach and importation.
In some ways, The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out is at its best
in revealing the characters of those artistic directors from George
Devine and William Gaskill through the now largely forgotten eras of
directors such as Oscar Lewenstein, Robert Kidd (with Nicholas Wright)
and Stuart Burge to the long servers, Max Stafford Clark, Stephen Daldry
and Ian Rickson who at fourteen, five and eight years respectively outlasted
every previous incumbent bar Devine himself who managed eleven years
prior to his untimely death.
Helpfully, there is also a list of every play performed at the Court,
including those during its refurbishment exile in the late 1990s. So
many have been controversial, which is part of the charm of the place.
In addition, there are large numbers of high-quality black and white
photographs and reproductions of documents that vary from reports of
earrings falling off during performances to pages from the scheduling
books kept by different artistic directors.
This is an enjoyable and very detailed homage to a writers' theatre
that still gives pleasure to so many. It will be read with enjoyment
by anyone who has spent significant time on the theatre's now comfortable
seats and wants to know more about the tradition that has seeped into
the building and can be felt on every single visit to Sloane Square.
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