Nov 9, 2007

King of the Court

Dominic Cooke's latest programme at the Royal Court is receiving a healthy dose of press attention at the moment, and justifiably so, as I think its about the most dynamic and exciting programme that the place has had in years and, regardless of how you might feel about the limited scope of the typewriter totalitarianism of traditional playwriting, one of the most mouth-wateringly ambitious programmes I've seen since I've been in London.

The most interesting thing about the programme is watching Cooke gracefully balancing the fulfillment of the expectations of the Court's traditional audience with elements that subtly challenge or even undermine those expectations. Or, put more simply, after throwing the State of the Nation brigade a juicy slab of David Hare, he has the them eating out of his hand.

And so with the old school pacified those with a more adventurous bent get a new Katie Mitchell/Martin Crimp collaboration and a new (and as-yet entirely un-started) piece by Anthony Neilson. Add to that an intruiging french-canadian play translated by Caryl Churchill and new work by Mike Bartlett and the astounding Debbie Tucker Green (whose Generations was about the best defence of the power and depth and subtlty of the short play (or indeed the playscript itself) you are likely to see) and what you have is a programme that is unashamedly pawing at the limits of traditional playwriting; experimenting with form, location and structure in myriad of fascinating ways.

And no element of the programme represents this better than the Rough Cuts season, a forum for theatrical experimentation that I feel, far from being a new feather in the Court's
much admired hat, harks back to those misty eyed golden years of the 50s and 60s in terms of the scope that it gives young artists to play not just with ways of writing theatre, but ways of making it. After all, as I have said before, when Edward Bond, Arnold Wesker and the like were hanging around the place like a bad smell in the post-Look Back in Anger days, they weren't sitting in conference rooms learning how to create characters or write pithy well-structured dialogues, they were up on their feet, playing with masks, reading Brecht, exploring theatre as a medium rather than merely as a platform for their own literary virtuosity.

And in that sense this programme is truly in the spirit of those much cooed-over years, throwing off the albatross that has hung around the theatre's neck for so long and genuinely living up to what Cooke calls 'tradition of innovation and experimentation which is at the heart of the Royal Court’s mission.'

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