Royal Court Theatre - London

Contemporary Playwriting: Evaluating, Documenting, Archiving and Producing

A new strand of research from a leading Professor of International Theatre at the University of Lincoln is helping to reveal the global impact of the Royal Court Theatre.

The Royal Court Theatre is Britain’s principal national theatre company dedicated to new work by innovative writers, and it has a pivotal role in promoting new voices around the world. In addition to its high profile productions, the Royal Court facilitates international work at a grass roots level, developing exchanges that bring young writers to Britain, and sending British writers, actors and directors to work with artists around the world.

Since 2010, Professor Mark O’Thomas, Professor of International Theatre and Head of the Lincoln School of Performing Arts, has undertaken an extensive body of research to highlight the importance of this activity in relation to translating cultures and languages in dramatic contexts, producing social and political change and encouraging international cultural development.

Supported by the Translating Cultures fund from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and assisted by Professor Elaine Aston of Lancaster University, Professor O’Thomas has travelled the world to assess the impact of the Royal Court on international playwrights, dramaturgs, translators and agencies alike.

In a forthcoming co-authored book, Royal Court: International, Professors O’Thomas and Aston reveal their key findings, which point towards a fascinating export economy of the arts that transcends national boundaries and heavily influences writing for the stage in the UK, and around the world.

Since the publication of their Interim Report, the British Council offices in Chile and São Paulo have used their findings as a means of reflecting on its internal processes around the curation and development of arts activities outside of the United Kingdom.

"Our work for the Royal Court will have implications for thinking about how international artists can be promoted, and for thinking about what they do when they work outside of the borders of their own countries."

The Royal Court’s process sees representatives work around the globe, and Professor O’Thomas followed in their footsteps as he ventured to the Middle East and Latin America to interview playwrights, dramaturgs and theatrical agencies. He examines the importance of cultural exchange between British and international writers, and exposes the wider ramifications this has for growing cultural understanding and for the creative economy.

Travelling to Tangier in Morocco, São Paulo in Brazil and Santiago in Chile enabled the researchers to meet with playwrights from current and former workshops of the Royal Court and evaluate the legacy of the work on their practice. Interviews and investigations with British Councils also provided valuable insight into the positive effects of the Royal Court on the domestic art economy.

Professor O’Thomas and Professor Aston have presented their thought-provoking findings around the world; at the Performing Transformations Conference in Tangier, the International Federation for Theatre Research conference in Santiago, and at a bespoke Breakfast Seminar hosted by the Royal Court itself. The seminar successfully demonstrated how higher education institutions can bridge the gap between a cultural institution and translation practice, and enabled the theatre to establish pioneering new links with theatre translators, which would not otherwise have been possible.

Their work has been particularly useful in delineating the role of theatre and new writing in capturing political events such as the Arab Spring, and revealing how such work becomes mediated across cultures and languages. 

Professor O’Thomas and Professor Aston are already preparing for new research visits to India, Russia and West Africa, as they consolidate and contextualise their work further, and reveal how the Royal Court’s success has inspired confidence in theatres on a truly global scale.