The Royal Court has been home to new writing since 1870. It showcases daring theatre by mainly unknown playwrights and encourages audiences to be challenged by what they see on stage.
The difference between the news and theatre is supposed to be straightforward; one has performers and writers dictating fiction, and the other fact. However, with the outpour of ‘fake news’ and the inclusion of non-fiction storylines in some pieces of theatre – such as Lucy Prebble’s ‘A Very Expensive Poison’ based on the assassination of real-life Russian spy – these lines have been blurred.
The Royal Court has fed off the blurring of fact and fiction in theatre with the creation of its ‘Living Newspaper.’ Continuing to support new writers by creating experimental theatre in spite of the pandemic, the Royal Court brings news to life by using different rooms for different ‘sections.’ Each room carries a shift in tone, reflecting various aspects of the most pressing news stories of the time.
In ‘Edition’ 1, which premiered in December, the theatre downstairs is the ‘front page,’ where actors sung a musical number titled ‘locked down.’ The song is fuelled by politics, with snippets from Boris Johnson’s announcements used as the undertone for the lyrics’ critique of his government. As audiences move into the theatre’s bar, they are met with a ‘dating section,’ where a pre-determined conversation is heard between a young couple, outlining their relationship rules. The ‘weather’ room shows the impact of climate change, and the need for action, while the ‘comment’ section involves dialogue about various conspiracy theories, meaning to reflect the danger of social media.
The ‘Editions’ can stay so up to date due to quick turnaround from writing to performance. They are performed within the week that they are written; writers hand in their scripts on Tuesday, with actors and the production team using Wednesday to rehearse, before the performance on Thursday. The performance is so responsive to the times that the actors hold their scripts during the live production. A writers team, as well as individual contributors, are used to compose the dialogue and general vibe of the ‘edition’.
The project is hugely collaborative, with more than 200 freelance artists involved. As well as the wide variety of roles needed to make these ‘editions,’ among the 60 actors cast, each ‘edition’ will involve a 2020 graduate, which is a really exciting contribution from the Royal Court, considering the impact of the pandemic on graduate’s jobs, particularly among aspiring actors.
‘Edition’ 1 and 2 premiered in December, and ‘Editions’ 3 to 6 are set to premiere at the end of lockdown. The joy of this project is that theatre-lovers worldwide can appreciate its creativity, with the ‘editions’ being available on the Royal Court’s website. The performances can be watched online for a week after their live production date. The scripts continue to be available in the Royal Court’s ‘archive’ section of their website.
These ‘editions’ are designed like newspapers, able to be flicked through with the dialogue acting as the articles. There are also images from the live performance available to support bringing the print edition alive. The Royal Court’s ‘Living Newspaper’ is innovative and shows theatre’s value in making a political point in a fun and vibrant atmosphere, unable to be replicated in film or TV with the same effect. Keep an eye out for the future ‘Editions’ to come, and find out more about the previous performances here.
Illustration: Verity Laycock