In 1956 the English Stage Company reopened at the Royal Court Theatre under the artistic direction of George Devine. He believed that the writer was the fundamental creative force within theatre and was committed to creating a venue where new writing could be promoted. In the first season he produced Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' and included new international plays by Bertolt Brecht, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Paul Sartre and Marguerite Duras.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1915-2005), Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1956
Arthur Miller's play about a 17th-century witch hunt in America was first performed in New York in 1953. This is a 1956 production by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre. The play is set among the Puritan settlers of Salem, Massachusetts, where dancing is frowned upon and adultery is a serious offence. John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth, are caught up in an uncontrollably fast-moving witch hunt, where teenage girls accuse members of their community of witchcraft - and are believed. Among them is Proctor's one-time adulterous lover, Abigail, who, still passionate about Proctor, points the finger at Elizabeth. The play was written during the McCarthyite 'witch hunts', which were taking place at the time. The US government took Hollywood artists suspected of communism to court. As in Salem, friends had to give evidence about friends who, if found guilty, were blacklisted. Some never recovered their careers again.
The Weir by Conor McPherson (born 1971), Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1998
The Weir was first staged at the Royal Court Theatre upstairs in 1998, but was such a success that it was soon given a run in the West End.
The play is set in a dingy pub in Sligo in the west of Ireland. Brendan Coyle played the barman, (also called Brendan) and Jim Norton is the gentle Jack. The arrival of a young woman from Dublin who has just bought a house in the area, provides an opportunity for the usual selection of regulars, all men, to try and show off. In true Irish fashion this is done through telling stories - ghost stories in this case. However the tales that the men come up with are all topped by the haunting story of the woman herself and her tragedy changes the atmosphere of the evening.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl poster, Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1958
Written by Trinidadian playwright Errol John, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl opened in England at the Royal Court Theatre in 1958 after a provincial tour. It brought to life the many stories of one family, the Adams, from Trinidad. It was a realistic piece of drama that featured real life dilemmas such as the story of Ephraim, a bus conductor who, instead of marrying his pregnant girlfriend, plans to run away to start a new life in the UK. The play was successful both in the UK and in America where it was revived in the 1970s. The play won first prize in The Observer's 1957 playwriting competition. One of the judges, Kenneth Tynan, described it as a 'hot-climate tragicomedy about backyard life in Trinidad'.
Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien (born 1942), Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1973
The Rocky Horror Picture Show began as a six-week workshop project in June 1973 in the Royal Court's tiny 60-seat Theatre Upstairs. Richard O'Brien wrote the book, music and lyrics, as an homage to horror films. The show is an outrageous assemblage of science fiction movies, Marvel comics and rock 'n' roll. Two middle American small-town kids are confronted by the sexual complications of the decadent 1970s, represented in the person of the mad 'doctor' Frank N Furter, a 'sweet transvestite' from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania.
Tim Curry played the role at the Royal Court and went on to huge success in the transfer and in the film.
It rapidly outgrew the Royal Court and transferred first to a converted cinema and then to the 500-seat King's Road Theatre where it sold out nightly.
With the 1975 film version and numerous provincial productions, the show has taken on cult status. People dress up in the style of the characters, and there are set audience responses. You can even find an 'audience participation script' online.
Playboy of the West Indies by Mustapha Matura (born 1939), Tricycle Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse Theatre production, directed by Nicolas Kent, London, England, 2005
Cast: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Ken), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Peggy), Joy Richardson (Mama Benin), Remi Wilson (Alice), Tracey Saunders (Ivy), Malcolm Frederick (Mikey), Larrington Walker (Jim), Shango Baku (Phil), Ben Bennet (Stanley), Danny John-Jules (Mac).
Cleansed by Sarah Kane (1971-1999), Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1998
'In an institution designed to rid society of its undesirables, a group of inmates try to save themselves through love.' This was the young playwright Sarah Kane's précis of her third play Cleansed produced in 1998 at the Royal Court.
The nightmarish institution that Kane imagined, violently and systematically tortured its inmates and scenes included the (fatal) injection of heroin into an eyeball, violent amputation, male rape and suicide. Unsurprisingly, critics were shocked and outraged by what they saw (as they had been with the violence of Kane's first play 'Blasted'). Some, however, also recognised that the play's power did not stem purely from its shock value. Kane's works are visually ambitious, and their message is positive to an extent. Although love leads to acts of violence in the play, it also produces the only moments of tenderness and escape.
The Royal Court Theatre production of 'Cleansed' also avoided the graphic brutality of 'Blasted' with a more stylised production.