An Ode to the Royal Court

A couple of weeks ago I developed a major crush. There were butterflies in my stomach; I couldn’t keep the smile off my face; I remained calm on the outside to save any embarrassment, but on the inside I was squealing and bounding around. The object of these great affections? No dashing charmer or hunky heartthrob, but a red brick building on the edge of Sloane Square. That’s right, I’m in love with the Royal Court Theatre.
Photo: Ben Sutherland

The Court has long been on my list of Places I Must Visit; I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get there – it’s hardly on the far side of the world – but I finally made it towards the end of the run of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information. I do indulge in literary tourism on the not-too-rare occasion: I have seen the sofa on which Emily Brontё (supposedly) died, the house in which Shakespeare was born and the room in which Hardy wrote some of his most famous novels and poems. Yet I would not say I stand in too much awe of this hallowed ground – it’s interesting, it’s reasonably exciting, but it doesn’t violently thrill me. I’d never kiss the ground. Of course, I love going to the theatre (obviously, as this whole blog would be a bit of a weird charade…), and nearly every time I am met with that same excited tingly feeling. But even the electricity of my beloved Les Mis or of Trevor Nunn’s King Lear, the first time I saw Shakespeare on a grand scale, had me buzzing in quite the same way that I was as we drove through the sheeting rain through west London. This was different – something more to do with the place than with what I was about to see: because, quite honestly, I had no idea what to expect from what I was about to see. (Incidentally, you can find out more about that here: http://laurapeatman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/theatre-review-love-and-information.html).

As soon as I walked in, there was something about the Court that got to me; something about being in arguably the most important place for British modern drama. The place that the Angry Young Men caused a stir, to say the least. Where John Osborne, Shelagh Delaney, Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill, Timberlake Wertenbaker, David Mamet , Edward Bond, Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane and so many other had presented their works which were to shape the face of theatre in this country. If I hadn’t been in the role of responsible staff member on a school trip, I might’ve actually danced for joy.

Maybe you’ll think this fangirling is ridiculous. But even if you manage to keep a bit more of a cap on your emotions than me, there is something undeniably cool about the place, even if it has lost its controversial edge of 50 years ago. The lack of a spacious foyer, the comfy and familiar-seeming brown leather seats, the scripts that are sold as programmes, the principle actors’ low key presence in the bar afterwards: it’s all about the drama, not about the affluent West End punters.  This genial atmosphere was evident during the technical glitches that halted the performance of Love and Information which I attended: there was real sympathy for the cast, real encouragement for the techies fixing the issue, no complaints and no impatient tutting – just a good-natured enthusiasm for the theatre to continue, and a hearty cheer when it did.

Perhaps it was partly my inner expectations that I had built up about the place. But I felt the Royal Court’s atmosphere, its history, its effect and its draw more keenly and more fiercely than I have for any other venue. If you ever see a bedraggled blonde girl attempting to camp outside the doors – it might be me.

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