LONDON – Tired of wading through newsprint or scrolling online? The Royal Court Theater offers an exciting online alternative that breaks current events through a vibrant and eclectic array of plays that add a zesty twist to many of today’s hot button themes.
The natural inspiration for “Living Newspaper” is the project of the same name from the time of the Depression in America, a federal government-funded response to the social concerns of the time, which had their origins in the Russian Revolution and viewed art as an agency for change.
This immediacy coincides with the history of engagement at the court, a theater that prides itself on measuring the temperature of time. Not for nothing is one of the makeshift rooms suitable for this collection of pieces called the weather room. (The idea was to redesign the court so that its spaces on or next to the stage came close to sections of a newspaper.)
And what is the prognosis? “Unpredictability, volatility and destruction,” proclaims actress Kayla Meikle in a solo play by Nina Segal. Your response suggests a sense of insecurity, or worse, that much of the writing here has in common. Segal’s game takes less than six minutes and is part of Edition 5 of an ambitious seven-part company. The court is due to be open to the public again in June.
The Sloane Square playhouse, long dedicated to new writing, has made culturally productive use of the pandemic. At a time when theater professionals were suffering from a lack of work, Living Newspaper employed over 300 freelancers, two thirds of them writers and actors. The first four “Issues” are no longer available, but Issues 5 and 6 are, with the final issue being available for two weeks from Monday. This will be dedicated to writers between the ages of 14 and 21.
How can a building function as a newspaper? Surprisingly easy. We experience the stories in different physical locations, just as we might flip through the news pages. Each “issue” includes, for example, obituary and advice pages that are divided into plays appropriately. The front page is usually reserved for a larger piece of music to get the process off to a thrilling start.
The result has allowed for as varied a range of expressions as you can imagine, sometimes cheeky and satirical, just as often pointed and polemical. (The Living Newspaper of Legend knew a thing or two about agitprop.) Writers include regulars like EV Crowe, whose teasing “Shoe Lady” was at court last spring when London theaters closed, and Tim Crouch, a loner writer whose solo play “Horoscopes” shows him from his worst side while he disembowels the 12 signs of the zodiac.
Topics such as empowerment and self-identity keep cropping up, just as various forms of the word “apocalypse” reveal a prevailing discomfort. Normality only exists to be turned upside down, not least in Crowe’s “The Tree, the Leg and the Ax”, in which two women (Letty Thomas and Alana Jackson, both great) sit comfortably in the theater bookstore and are happy about it , “to be sure. far from the virus – no masks for them! – just to reveal a landscape marked by wildness.
Several plays deal with the surroundings of the courtyard. Maud Dromgoole’s witty “Museum of Agony,” a solo piece Jackson delivered with persistent brio, folds his smoldering anger into a discussion of what to order in the theater bar. Episode 6 shows a captivating twist of the performance artist Nando Messias, whose “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” by Hester Chillingworth ends with the elegantly dressed Messiah rising from the outside steps of the courtyard and entering the playhouse, an invitation for us to follow the Scrawled back of the performer.
Any of these themes could fuel an entire season in pandemic-free times, especially at the court, which is known for keeping an eye on the mood of the moment. It has a history of plays involving political tension (one of which was Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” set during the Northern Ireland Troubles) and of occupying a wide geographic network. In 1956, with John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger”, the theater also introduced the term “angry young man” and is moving ahead with noticeable emotions.
Tensions in the Middle East fuel some of the pieces, like Dalia Taha’s “A Warning,” which is about planting the seeds for it Revolution in Ramallah in the West Bank. The renewed violence in Northern Ireland drives the bitterly funny “Flicking the Shamrock” by Stacey Gregg. After four minutes It’s beautifully listed by Amanda Coogan and Rachael Merry as women whose preferred forms of sign language (BSL versus ISL) indicate a power-sharing that may not go according to plan.
The Living Newspaper offers a potpourri for the theater that is comparable to the Lockdown Plays. These were a high point of the writing in the pandemic and have been grouped under many of the Court’s recognized names. As with any newspaper, you can hop on and off and dive into the game that catches your eye. I’d like to return to Amy Bethan Evans’ cheeky headlines, “Neurodiverge Aunt,” in which the wonderful autistic Cian Binchy ponders the limits of compassion a columnist allows: “I can’t be your friend because it’s unprofessional. ”
I laughed out loud at Leo Butler’s “In Memoriam (With Helen Peacock),” in which actress Nathalie Armin looks dispassionately at a forbidden list of recent deaths that contains “nuances” and “debates” that made it to the end from ancient Greece only to surrender to modern day trolling.
And cheers to Rory Mullarkey’s This Play, which describes theater of all styles and structures, including those that were impossible during the pandemic. At some point, actress Millicent Wong asks: “Now give me some more plays,” and her voice rises. Any fan of the courtyard and its bar on the first floor would surely drink to it.
The Living Newspaper is online until May 9th.