Royal Court Theatre

Definition

Theater

  • The name of two theaters in London's Sloane Square. The earlierRoyal Court, on the south side of the square, was originally calledthe New Chelsea. Until 1870 the building had been a Nonconformistchapel, and locals joked that it had always had bad acting, a pit,and payment at the doors. After remodelling in 1871, the theater changedits name to the Royal Court. Successful productions included severalearly pieces by W. S. Gilbert and a series of farces by A. W. Pineroin the 1880s.

    Following the theater's demolition for road widening in 1887,its manager John Clayton built the present structure on the east sideof the square. Opening in 1888, it slowly earned a reputation forinnovative drama, staging 10 of George Bernard Shaw's plays between1904 and 1907. The Royal Court became a cinema in 1932 and sufferedfrom wartime bombing in 1940. It remained derelict until 1952, whenRobert Cromie renovated it for the London Theatre Guild. The theaterthen entered another exciting phase of its history in 1956, when theEnglish Stage Company took up residence. Under its artisticdirector George Devine, the company produced such controversialnew plays as John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956),Arnold Wesker's Chips with Everything (1962), and Edward Bond'sSaved (1965), which incurred a prosecution. In 1969 the oldrehearsal rooms, which had also been used as a nightclub, were convertedinto the Theatre Upstairs for experimental productions. TheRoyal Court, which championed the plays of David Hare and Caryl Churchillin the 1970s, has maintained its challengingapproach. In 1987, for example, protests by Jewish groups forced itto withdraw the play Perdition by Jim Allen, which suggestedthe complicity of some Zionists in the Holocaust. Other controversialproductions have included David Mamet's Oleanna (1993), whichenraged some feminists, Sarah Kane's Blasted (1995), whichdisgusted many with its violence and apparent nihilism, and Mark Ravenhill'sShopping and Fucking (1996). In 1996 - 2000 the theaterclosed for total refurbishment and the company took up residence at theDuke of York's Theatre: its productions there included Conor McPherson'sghost story The Weir (1997), which went on to become the mostsuccessful play in the company's history. Stephen Daldry, thetheater's artistic director since 1992, was succeeded by Ian Rickson in1998; the current director (from 2006) is Dominic Cooke. The Royal Courtenjoyed a remarkable run of success in 2008 - 10, when new plays included Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem (2009) and Lucy Prebble'sdocumentary drama Enron (2009), both of which received ravereviews and transferred to the West End. In 2010 the theater wasnominated for a record 15 Laurence Olivier Awards for these and other productions.

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