Review: Royal Court Young Writers Festival

Review: Royal Court Young Writers Festival

By Chelsey Burdon 19/03/12

IdeasTap member and young journalist Chelsey Burdon is the winner of our Royal Court Reporter brief. We sent her along to the annual Royal Court Young Writers Festival to report back on productions, rehearsed readings and other events...

Being a virgin to this yearly celebration of young playwrights at the Royal Court, I had expected some flavour of provocation or at least a sprinkling of political awareness.

After all, if I speak collectively for our generation, are we not the disenfranchised? The lost generation, bearing the brunt of an economic crisis wielding a sledgehammer to the arts? And is the Royal Court not the home of boundary pushing theatre, where history has seen rage and disillusionment meted out through the finely crafted dialogue of some of the UK’s best contemporary playwrights?

It seems slightly odd, then, that the festival’s first offering, Goodbye to All That by Luke Norris, is a rather mild-mannered portrayal of sexagenarian love triangle, as central character Frankie leaves his wife of 45 years for the woman that he loves. This is not to say that the play isn't incredibly well crafted; actor turned playwright Luke Norris is certainly one to keep an eye on in the future. Aligning himself with the legacy of Simon Stephens and Pinter, Norris has a deft ear for dialect and colloquialism, perfectly capturing the mannerisms and nuances of characters almost three times his age. There is simply nothing bold about it. 

Not to be overshadowed by the full productions are the rehearsed readings. First up was Brilliant Adventures by Alistair McDowall – an unforgettable romp from a Middlesbrough council estate. It’s not often that you see a tale of petty drug dealers coupled with time travel machines, mute gimp-like fathers and secret geniuses, but this fun little script blended them perfectly. The play was read with real commitment and relish from a strong cast.

When it comes to showcasing new talent, it certainly doesn't end there. The real jaw droppers were the Saturday Shorts: plays by eight- to 15-year-olds. It is hard to believe, even under the tutelage of the likes of debbie tucker green and Nick Payne, that children so young could be capable of such insightful, entertaining and ambitious writing. 

Young musical prodigies and artists are often given no end of exposure and opportunities to showcase their creative prowess; for the young dramatists among us there is the Royal Court. Highlights included the charmingly intuitive Proud to be Geeky by Janine Coelho Gomes and the tear-jerking Then I Met You by Olivia Sewell Risley. With work of this calibre, I would happily pay all year round to watch and support these young wordsmiths, all of whom no doubt have a career in the theatre awaiting them.

Ultimately this festival is a celebration of storytelling; regardless of form, all great stories begin with a writer and an idea, nowhere is this more celebrated than British theatre. We cherish those craftsmen that create drama and suspense, empathy and adoration. From the 100-word plays that lovingly adorn every spare inch of the building to the spoken word events and all that lies between, the Royal Court Young Writers Festival reminds us of the artistry of playwriting and the joy of storytelling.


The Royal Court Young Writers Festival is on until 14 April. Read our interview with its organiser, Clare McQuillan and books tickets.

Image: 100-Word Plays, courtesy of the Royal Court.

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