A complete guide to London’s Royal Court Theatre

By | Posted on 01-Jun-2019

A complete guide to London’s Royal Court Theatre

As one of London’s notable off-West End venues, the Royal Court Theatre is a playhouse steeped in centuries of theatrical history. Since the first productions staged at the venue, leading contemporary actors have tread the board, with recent stars at the Royal Court Theatre including Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas and Kit Harington. Considered to be the ‘writers’ theatre’, find out more about the history and successes of the Royal Court Theatre with us and get ready for your next visit to the theatre!

The Royal Court

Where is the Royal Court Theatre?

The Royal Court Theatre is located at Sloane Square (SW1W 8AS). The closest tube station is Sloane Square, just a one minute walk from the theatre and served on the District and Circle lines. With its iconic red neon lights on the exterior, you’ll be able to see the Royal Court Theatre shining from a distance. If you’re wanting to see the theatre while exploring London, read our guide to the London Underground to help you get around the city.

How were the early years at the Royal Court Theatre?

The Royal Court’s theatre curtains opened up for the first time in 1870. Originally named the ‘New Chelsea Theatre’, the prestigious venue was quickly renamed the ‘Court Theatre’ with early plays written by Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) receiving their London premiere at the venue. Even with its list of successful productions, the theatre was demolished in August 1887 to accommodate for a larger performance space, which opened a year later with a production of Hermine by Charles Thomas.

Early 20th-century history at the Royal Court Theatre

With the theatre’s name eventually settled as the ‘Royal Court Theatre’, the venue gained a reputation for staging plays by leading British playwrights. 20th-century contemporary playwrights including George Bernard Shaw saw success with Man and Superman at the Royal Court Theatre and on Broadway, while Sydney Grundy’s Mamma continued to put comic operas on the map.

Facing a similar life to theatres around, the Royal Court Theatre ceased as a theatre from 1932. Later converted into a cinema from 1935 to 1940, audiences flocked to see 1930s blockbusters on the big screen until World War Two bomb damage permanently closed the venue.

The re-opening of the Royal Court Theatre

After World War II, the interior of the Royal Court Theatre was reconstructed, leading to the theatre’s grand opening in 1952. With a seating capacity of 500, audiences were able to witness groundbreaking plays staged in an intimate space. But a new theatre needed new plays to be performed. In 1956, George Devine placed an advert in The Stage calling for new scripts; the competition had over 700 entries. Later that year, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger received its debut at the Royal Court, with Devine believing in the play, even if critics were displeased.

Plays were presented by the English Stage Company – a company of actors and writers who would produce new British and international productions, as well as reviving classic works. While productions including a 1957 staging of The Entertainer starring Laurence Olivier lit up the Royal Court Theatre , some plays were refused a licence to be performed, including Saved and Early Morning by Edward Bond.

Notable productions staged at the Royal Court Theatre include the English Stage Company’s The Rocky Horror Show in 1973, written by Richard O’Brien. Playing to 62 people each night, The Rocky Horror Show has become a global phenomenon, with productions staged in all continents apart from Antarctica! The 1980s saw a flurry of successful plays including Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls in 1982, which captured the spirit of the Royal Court Theatre challenging preconceptions.

What plays have been staged at the Royal Court Theatre?

Closed for rebuilding in the 1990s, the Royal Court Theatre overtook the Duke of York’s Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre, with the English Stage Company staging internationally-renowned plays. The Royal Court Theatre that stands today opened its doors in 2000, with recent productions garnering worldwide acclaim such as Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. After a world premiere in 2017, the historical drama following the lives of an Irish family during the Troubles went on to win best new play at the 2018 Olivier Awards and the 2019 Tony Awards.

Did you know the Royal Court has a library?

Named the Samuel French bookshop, members of the public and audiences have the opportunity to purchase plays and theatre books at the Royal Court Theatre. With live events with playwrights and hundreds of books on the shelves, you may be able to see a production and take home the script on the same day!

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland (Flickr) with CC 2.0.