Writing at the Royal Court

Writing at the Royal Court

By Miriam Zendle 03/02/11

Clare McQuillan is the studio administrator at the Royal Court’s literary department; she’s responsible for managing playwriting groups, workshops and readings of plays in development, the Rough Cuts season and the Young Writers Festival. She talks about the theatre’s programmes for aspiring writers…

Finding the most interesting new voices and staging them has been the Royal Court’s complete passion and commitment since 1956, when artistic director George Levine put out a public call for new plays and received John Osbourne’s Look Back in Anger. It’s an all-consuming mission.

We want to create a space for people to share and develop their ideas and to practice their craft. We have various groups – the Young Writers Programme for 18-to-25-year-olds, while Critical Mass is open to black and ethnic minority writers aged 18+.

As part of our Unheard Voices project, in 2011 we’re running a playwriting group for emerging East Asian playwrights. You can apply for these by sending in 15 pages of script. We also run studio groups for more experienced writers and the most promising writers from our public application groups.

One of the most productive things about our groups is the deadlines. Writing is very solitary and it can be difficult to work towards something concrete if you feel isolated. We offer a support network and give you a momentum. The group is a very open and creative space in which attendees can write the play they really want to write, and develop as a writer in a safe space.

We call them groups rather than courses because we’re not an educational body – we don’t claim to be able to teach people things. What we’re trying to do is create a space where our playwriting tutor Leo Butler can offer his thoughts and ideas about the tools and crafts of playwriting, and people can choose whether to take that away with them. We also resisted the label “courses” because we don’t want it to become a factory where people come, we tell them how to do it and they pop out a play.

We get a large volume of submissions – we read them all and offer places to the most promising writers. We don’t do it by numbers. If we get 50 brilliant applications, we take 50 brilliant people. Writers like E V Crowe (Kin), Lucy Prebble (Enron), Laura Wade (Posh) and Nick Payne (Wanderlust) came through our writing group and Anya Reiss (Spur of the Moment), who wrote her first play when she was 17, came through our Young Writers Programme.

When you’re learning your craft, structure is one of the most difficult things to pull off. Practice helps with characterisation, narrative and structure. If you’re trying to develop as a playwright, write the story you want to write – that thing about the world you find troubling, fascinating or disturbing.

Listen to those you trust and, if you can, get some actor friends together and hear your work out loud. That can be really helpful if you’re feeling blocked or not sure what direction to take.


The Young Writers Festival is an open competition for writers under 25, held in January 2012; the submission deadline is 31 May 2011. The deadline for the Young Writers Programme (for writers aged 18 to 25) is 31 March 2011. For more information, visit the Royal Court website.

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