Building & Tours
It seems disloyal to say that the Royal Court is my favourite theatre building in London, but I’m unrepentant
— Richard Eyre
The Royal Court Theatre was built in 1888 by architects Walter Emden and Bertie Crewe. It had a varied life for the first seventy years of its existence, serving variously as a receiving house, a producing venue (home to some of GB Shaw’s greatest works including Major Barbara and Man and Superman), a cinema and finally falling into disuse after bomb damage during the Blitz.
In 1956, the English Stage Company, established by George Devine, set up home at the Royal Court and began producing radical new work which marked the beginning of modern British theatre. The English Stage Company was the country’s first national subsidised theatre company and produced new British plays, international plays and some classical revivals, which it continues to do today. The aim of the company was to produce plays that were different to the commercial theatre available then – plays that would reflect the reality of modern life, even if this was gritty and unpleasant. For this reason, they described themselves as having ‘the right to fail’, and indeed the first few years were very difficult.
The English Stage Company’s first season, however, included a play that was to change the face of modern theatre, not only in Britain, but around the world: John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. This relatively unknown playwright had had his script rejected by more than two dozen managements before George Devine selected it from over 700 submissions. The play’s style and context was a radical departure from contemporary British drama and, although initially unpopular with audiences, ultimately achieved a phenomenal degree of success. Osborne found himself acclaimed in the media as a spokesman giving voice to a whole generation of young people: “angry young men” who had never previously been represented onstage. Over time, the play became a huge commercial success and it was the proceeds from West End and Broadway runs of Look Back in Anger that kept the company afloat during its first few years.
Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepherd and Mark Ravenhill are among the many writers who have since been discovered or nurtured by the Royal Court. Today, it remains Britain’s premier national company dedicated to developing and producing new work by new playwrights. Like the Royal Court’s plays, playwrights and directors, audiences are very eclectic in their tastes, backgrounds and beliefs.
By 1994, the theatre had fallen into disrepair and it became necessary to refurbish the building. The English Stage Company obtained finance from the National Lottery and the Jerwood Foundation and moved to the West End while Haworth Tompkins architects radically redeveloped the building. The result is a space which allows the rich history of the Royal Court to shine, through layers of paint, plaster and exposed brickwork, while also being radically forward thinking, with a bold use of concrete and modern and reclaimed building materials.
Today, the Royal Court remains the home of new writing from both Britain and abroad, regularly premiering some of the world’s most innovative work. Playwrights who have recently worked with the Royal Court include David Hare, Roy Williams, Martin Crimp, debbie tucker green and Jez Butterworth. The redeveloped theatre forms a fitting backdrop to this daring new work.
At any one time, we now have 50 plays under commission and, each year in our two theatres – the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs and the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, present over 530 performances of 25 different plays, enjoyed by over 120,000 people. In addition to this work in London and tours throughout the country, the Royal Court works extensively overseas to bring young playwrights to Britain and to take British playwriting to the rest of the world. We also have a pioneering Studio, which is our major resource for discovering and nurturing talented new writers. Originally founded in 1966 as the Young Writers Programme, to develop and produce the best new writing by those under 25, The Studio now works with writers of all ages and from all sections of society, encouraging them to find their voice.
A full history of the English Stage Company and the Royal Court is outlined in The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out by Ruth Little and Emily McLaughlin, published by Oberon, which is available from the Royal Court Bookshop.
Behind-the-scenes Building Tours
Why not join us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Court Theatre, home to the English Stage Company for over 50 years, and discover the fascinating history of this magnificent building. For further information please contact the Events Manager on 020 7565 5047 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Concessions are available for schools and youth groups.
Tours last approximately 90 minutes.
We host two public building tours each season. Tickets are £7, £5 concessions, and early booking is recommended as places are limited. Please contact Box Office on 020 7565 5000 or book online.