Royal Court theatre reopens to present ‘living newspaper’

The Royal Court theatre in London is to reopen to audiences in November, not with a play on either of its two stages but a “living newspaper” created by a collective of artists and performed live around its building.

Six weekly editions of a newspaper for the Covid era will be presented to socially-distanced audiences at the theatre and to viewers online. Each edition is said to come with headlines, features and columns, created by writers working with actors, designers, stage managers, technicians and choreographers. Audiences will also encounter topical satire, dating articles, cartoons and a sport section within the building.

The Living Newspaper programme pays tribute to an initiative of the same name during the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s, when the Federal Theatre Project engaged unemployed writers to create socially aware drama that grasped urgent issues. One of its living newspaper productions, exploring slum housing in the US, One Third of a Nation, was staged in theatres around the country.

The Royal Court’s artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, said she had been galvanised as a teenager when she first learned about the Federal Theatre Project. “One day during lockdown I remembered it and how vital it had been not only for saving the theatre industry after the Depression but for encouraging those [who were] previously underrepresented and for speaking truth to power with celebration and joy.” The Court’s own Living Newspaper project will be “dynamic, political and disruptive” and will acknowledge “the hugely changed and changing times”.

Performances will take place throughout the day from 11am to 11pm, with the first newspaper available to experience from 12 November.

The Royal Court has launched a fundraising campaign to raise £100,000 to reopen its doors and support the theatre’s future. Its main stage is still dressed for EV Crowe’s play Shoe Lady, which closed early in March when the UK coronavirus lockdown led all theatres to shut their doors. Shoe Lady’s set has been used by the artist Hester Chillingworth for an installation, entitled Caretaker, which has been live-streamed on YouTube since May.

In 2014, the Royal Court and the Guardian collaborated on a series of filmed online microplays as an extension of the Guardian’s journalism. The project, Off the Page, matched playwrights with journalists to explore current issues in politics, education and fashion. The sport microplay, Death of England, written by Roy Williams and directed by Clint Dyer, was later developed into a full play of the same name at the National Theatre. Its sequel is to be staged at the NT later this year.