Royal Court Theatre

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The English Stage Company (ESC) is the resident company of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, London . The company and its work is the result of two disparate groups eventually uniting in a common cause. In 1953, directors George Devine and Tony Richardson devised a scheme to present 'the whole range of contemporary drama' in London with a small permanent company. Inspired by the work of Harley Granville Barker and John Eugene Vedrenne (who produced new plays by Shaw and Barker alongside the work of Ibsen, Hauptmann, Yeats and others at the Royal Court Theatre between 1904 and 1908), Devine hoped to lease the theatre, newly acquired by Alfred Esdaile, a former music-hall performer. Devine's 'Royal Court scheme' consisted of three main strands, the presentation of European modernism, revivals of classics and new plays, and armed with this he approached the Arts Council of Great Britain, the John Lewis Partnership, Selfridges and a number of other organisations and individuals in an attempt to raise the funds to lease the theatre. He was unsuccessful and continued to work as a freelance actor and director for the next few years.

Also in 1953, verse dramatist Ronald Duncan and his friends Lord Harewood and Edward Blacksell created the Taw and Torridge Festival of the Arts which aimed to present European, experimental and verse drama (including Duncan's own plays). From there Duncan began corresponding with Esdaile's general manager Oscar Lewenstein about a London venue for experimental work and the establishment of a company to produce it. The English Stage Society was formed in 1954 and became the English Stage Company soon afterwards in response to objections about the proximity of their first name to the Stage Society . The ESC formed a governing Council of 'stable, respected men in whom the Arts Council tends to place confidence', including Esdaile, Greville Poke, Sir Reginald Kennedy-Cox, Lord Bessborough and Neville Blond a powerful and influential businessman who guided the theatre through many of its subsequent financial hardships. Oscar Lewenstein, also on the ESC Council, suggested Devine should be approached to be the Artistic Director and thus began one of the most unlikely combinations in theatre history. In February 1956, having considered a number of other theatres, the company bought the lease of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square from Esdaile and the company has been synonymous with the Royal Court ever since.

In March 1956, Devine and Associate Director Tony Richardson announced their first season in The Stage and declared their intention to 'provide the modern playwright with the stage he so urgently needs'. The company's reputation as a writer's theatre was established by the third show of the first season, John Osborne 's Look Back in Anger . In 1957, the company introduced Sunday night productions without décor (a forerunner of the rehearsed reading or play workshop) which provided writers, directors and actors with further opportunities to work on new plays. Directors John Dexter, Lindsay Anderson, William Gaskill and Anthony Page all came to the ESC by this route. In 1963 the lease on the upstairs rooms, run as a restaurant and bar by Clement Freud, expired and the company began to explore how it could make use of the space. In 1968, the company began club performances of an 'experimental' nature in the rooms vacated by Freud, and after running a broad spectrum of performance events, were granted funds by the Arts Council of Great Britain to turn the space into a public auditorium. The Theatre Upstairs opened in 1969. In providing a smaller space, the ESC was able to increase its output, provide space for new and experimental work and operate an in-house transfer system whereby successful plays produced Upstairs could be given a longer run and bigger box office downstairs.

In 1996, the English Stage Company re-located to the West End to allow a complete refurbishment of the Royal Court by architects Haworth Tompkins . Under the artistic leadership of Stephen Daldry, the company embarked on an ambitious programme, taking over the Duke of York's Theatre for Downstairs shows and turning the Ambassadors Theatre into a smaller more intimate venue for Upstairs work. This coincided with the company's position in the vanguard of a new, experiential form of theatre dubbed 'in-yer-face' and memorably saw Mark Ravenhill 's Shopping and Fucking, playing at the Theatre Upstairs at the Ambassadors, being advertised as Shopping and Fucking outside the theatre and across the West End. The company returned to the newly refurbished Royal Court in February 2000.

The English Stage Company is one of the UK 's most important new writing institutions, developing and premiering works by John Arden, Edward Bond, Jez Butterworth, Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Andrea Dunbar, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Sarah Kane, and Mark Ravenhill, and running the Royal Court Young Writers Programme since 1998 (before that there was a Young People's Theatre Scheme). Alongside its work in new writing, the ESC has championed international work, from the first French and English productions of Beckett 's Endgame and Athol Fugard 's The Island and Sizwe Bansi is Dead through to its pioneering International Summer School programme begun in 1989. Although primarily a 'writers' theatre', the ESC has also been associated with some of the most influential theatre directors of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century: Lindsay Anderson, Max Stafford Clark, Stephen Daldry, William Gaskill, Peter Gill, and Ian Rickson .

From the guide to the English Stage Company/Royal Court Theatre Archive, 1934-2007, (V&A Department of Theatre and Performance)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre Correspondence TXRC99-A21., 1955-1959, nd Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Dan H. Laurence Collection. Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, S.W. ; a record and commentary of the Vedrenne-Barker season, 1904-1905 / by William Archer. University of Guelph
creatorOf Royal Court Theatre. 35 programs of performances of the Irish National Theatre Company. 1910-1912. 13 programs, Miss Horniman's Company and Shaw plays, Stage Society. 1905-1906. 6 playbills of presentations from 1905-1912. 1 program, Sloan Square, 1904. University of Kansas Archives / MSS / Rare Books, Kenneth Spencer Research Library
referencedIn Papers of Robert Graves: Correspondence (arranged by correspondent), c1909 to 2004 St John's College, Oxford
referencedIn New York Shakespeare Festival records. Series VI: Development Office, 1954-1989 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn David Hare Papers TXRC95-A129., 1968-93 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Canadian Stage Theatre Archives (University of Guelph). Our Country's Good / by Timberlake Wertenbaker ; based on Thomas Keneally's novel "The Playmaker" ; directed by Max Stafford-Clark, 1989 - house program. University of Guelph
creatorOf Canadian Stage Theatre Archives (University of Guelph). Our Country's Good / by Timberlake Wertenbaker ; directed by Max Stafford-Clark, 1989 - performance file. University of Guelph
referencedIn Arden, John. Correspondence of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, 1955-1959. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Gilbert, W. S. (William Schwenck), 1836-1911. Great expectations : drama in three acts and prologue / by W.S. Gilbert. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Sir, Michael Redgrave, Archive, 1890-1996 V&A Museum: Department of Theatre and Performance
referencedIn Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn New York Shakespeare Festival. Clippings collection, [microform] 1954- New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Souvenir programs of theatrical productions, 1883-1965. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Canadian Stage Theatre Archives (University of Guelph). Our Country's Good / by Timberlake Wertenbaker ; based on Thomas Keneally's novel "The Playmaker" ; directed by Max Stafford-Clark, 1989 - reviews and articles. University of Guelph
creatorOf English Stage Company/Royal Court Theatre Archive, 1934-2007 V & A Department of Theatre and Performance
creatorOf Gilbert, W. S. (William Schwenck), 1836-1911. Great expectations [microform] : drama in three acts and prologue. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn New York Shakespeare Festival Records. Series II: Play Department Files, 1954-1992 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Hare, David, 1947-. Papers, 1968-1993. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Under the clock : programs and ephemera, 1893-1894. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Madge Kendal correspondence, 1897-1909. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Gaskill, William, 1930-. Papers of William Gaskill, principally related to his period at the Royal Court Theatre, 1965-1972. University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Leeds University Library
referencedIn Santha Rama Rau papers concerning, A passage to India, 1960-1962. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950. Major Barbara. A discussion in three long acts : typescript, 1905. Houghton Library
referencedIn Papers of William Gaskill, principally related to his period at the Royal Court Theatre, 1965-1972, 1892-2001 Leeds University Library
referencedIn New York Shakespeare Festival Records. Series V: General Manager's Files, 1960-1991 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Carrick, Edward, 1905-. Edward Craig Theatre Collection : ephemeral documents, 1613-ca. 1984 (bulk 1800-1900) Centre canadien d'architecture, | Canadian Centre for Architecture | CCA
creatorOf Stoppard, Tom. Rock 'n' roll / by Tom Stoppard, 2007. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Lindsay Anderson Collection, 1910-1994 Stirling University Library
creatorOf Royal Court Theatre. Programs, 1903. University of Florida
referencedIn Contemporary Dance Trust Archive, 1957-1998 V&A Museum: Department of Theatre and Performance
referencedIn William Archer Collection, 1868-1990 V & A Department of Theatre and Performance
referencedIn David Cregan Archive, 1949-2014 V&A Theatre and Performance
referencedIn Papers, 1966-1996. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, La.). Dept. of Theatre. Louisiana State University photograph collection. Department of Theatre, 1981. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
referencedIn New York Shakespeare Festival Records. Series IV: Production Materials, 1958-1992 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Papers, 1912-1970 (inclusive), 1912-1954 (bulk). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Anderson, Lindsay person
associatedWith Archer, William., 1856-1924 person
associatedWith Arden, John., 1930- person
correspondedWith Beddoe, Josephine person
associatedWith Blond, Neville. Businessman person
associatedWith Bond, Edward., 1934- person
associatedWith Butterworth, Jez., 1969- person
associatedWith Canadian Stage Theatre Archives (University of Guelph) corporateBody
associatedWith Canadian Stage Theatre Archives (University of Guelph) corporateBody
associatedWith Canadian Stage Theatre Archives (University of Guelph) corporateBody
associatedWith Carrick, Edward, 1905- person
associatedWith Churchill, Caryl., 1938- person
associatedWith Contemporary Dance Trust corporateBody
correspondedWith Cowley, Graham person
associatedWith Crimp, Martin., 1956- person
associatedWith Daldry, Stephen., 1961- person
associatedWith Dan H. Laurence Collection. corporateBody
associatedWith David Cregan person
associatedWith Devine, George., 1910-1966 person
associatedWith Dexter, John., 1925-1990 person
correspondedWith Dixon, Doreen person
associatedWith Dunbar, Andrea., 1961-1990 person
associatedWith Duncan, Ronald., 1914-1982 person
associatedWith English Stage Company corporateBody
associatedWith English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre corporateBody
associatedWith Esdaile, Alfred. Businessman person
associatedWith Evans, Matthew person
correspondedWith Findlater, Richard person
associatedWith Gaskill, William, 1930- person
correspondedWith George Devine person
associatedWith Gilbert, W. S. (William Schwenck), 1836-1911. person
associatedWith Gill, Peter., 1931- person
associatedWith Graves, Robert Windham, 1858-1934 person
associatedWith Hampton, Christopher., 1946- person
associatedWith Hare, David, 1947- person
associatedWith Hare, David. Sir, 1947- person
correspondedWith Heywood, Vikki person
correspondedWith Jenkins, Anne person
associatedWith Kane, Sarah., 1971-1999 person
associatedWith Komisarjevsky, Theodore, 1882-1954 person
associatedWith Lewenstein, Oscar., 1917-1997 person
associatedWith Lortel, Lucille person
associatedWith Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, La.). Dept. of Theatre. corporateBody
correspondedWith Montagu, Helen person
associatedWith New York Shakespeare Festival. corporateBody
associatedWith Osborne, John., 1929-1994 person
associatedWith Page, Anthony., 1935- person
associatedWith Papp, Joseph. person
associatedWith Poke, Greville., 1912-2000 person
associatedWith Rama Rau, Santha, 1923- person
associatedWith Ravenhill, Mark., 1966- person
associatedWith Redgrave, Michael person
associatedWith Richardson, Tony., 1928-1991 person
associatedWith Rickson, Ian. Theatre and film director person
associatedWith Saddler, Donald person
associatedWith Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950. person
correspondedWith Sibley, Peter person
correspondedWith Soyinka, Wole. person
associatedWith Stafford-Clark, Max., 1941- person
associatedWith Stoppard, Tom. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London
England--London
Subject
Theatre--Great Britain--History--20th Century
Theater--History
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Britons

English

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