Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Tuesday, 13 July 2010 14:57 UK

New playwrights Courting success

The Royal Court has been home to an array of new young writers

By Will Gompertz
BBC Arts Editor

The Royal Court has long considered itself to be the National Theatre of new writing - and with good reason.

Look Back In Anger
Look Back In Anger premiered at the Royal Court in 1956

On May 8th 1956, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger premiered at the Royal Court and ushered in the modern age of British drama.

From that moment, the list of dramatists who have cut their writing teeth on the theatre's Sloane Square stage reads like a roll-call of the 20th Century's playwriting avant-garde: Athol Fugard, David Hare, Caryl Churchill, Wole Soyinka, David Edgar, Sam Sheppard and Joe Orton.

Now, from the turn of this century, the Royal Court is establishing a new dynamic breed of playwrights.

Schooled through their Young Writer's Programme, a 12-week evening course, young people from all backgrounds, aged between 16 and 25, are being taught and encouraged in the art of playwrighting.

Straight to stage

The success of the programme is remarkable. Recent graduates include Laura Wade (Posh, Alice), Polly Stenham (That Face, Tusk, Tusk), Simon Stephens (Haper Regan, Punk Rock) and Lucy Prebble (Enron).

Writers, producers and tutors all realised the stakes had been raised, that plays that had been hatched over the 12-week programme could be professionally produced within six months

The Young Writer's Programme was started in its current form by Ian Rickson, the Artistic Director of the Royal Court from 1998-2006.

When Dominic Cooke took over in 2007, he promised a fundamental change.

If a play emerging from the Young Writer's Programme was good enough, he would put it straight onto the Royal Court's stage, rather than waiting until the next Young Writer's Festival.

He was as good as his word. Very soon after his arrival, he put Polly Stenham's first play, That Face, on at the Royal Court. It was an instant success, transferred to the West End and has since been produced around the world.

This move changed the dynamic for all those involved with the Young Writer's Programme.

Fast turnaround

Front page of the script for Spur of the Moment
From page turner to stage hit?

Writers, producers and tutors all realised the stakes had been raised, that plays that had been hatched over the 12-week programme could be professionally produced within six months.

Applications increased and the quality of students improved, leading to further successes.

Now, Anya Reiss, until last month a schoolgirl revising for her A Levels, is being presented as the next exciting young playwright by the Royal Court.

She went on the programme as a 16-year-old with no confidence in her ability to conjure up a compelling story and, in truth, more of an interest in acting.

But the team at the Young writer's Programme saw something in her writing and encouraged her to persevere. So, while juggling revision for her exams, she has spent the early part of the summer casting and rehearsing her play.

The upshot is that Anya's play, Spur of the Moment, will open on Wednesday night at The Royal Court. Exciting times.

Watch Will Gompertz's film in full on Newsnight on Tuesday 13 July 2010 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.



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