David Lister: The Royal Court wants new short plays? Here are two on what's wrong with theatre


It's a fine idea of the Royal Court theatre to ask the public for plays of 100 words or fewer, plays that won't necessarily be staged but will be stuck up on the walls of the venue, in the bars, even in the toilets. I will, if I may, take up the challenge and offer a couple of 100-word plays in the hope that they might be displayed on the walls of the Royal Court.

Cry of the Anguished Young Theatregoer

Young theatregoer: You say you want new young audiences, but theatre prices can be horribly prohibitive, often £30 even in the balcony and nearly £80 in the stalls. How can we afford that? And on top of that you add a booking fee and even, God help us, a restoration levy.

Pompous producer: It's philistine to mention money. Think of the wonderful art you will be seeing. And what's £70 plus booking fee plus drink plus programme plus travel for a piece of wonderful art?

Young theatregoer: I think I'll wait for the DVD.'

Of course, there are all sorts of technicalities, not least casting, to be sorted. I'd quite like to see Carey Mulligan as the anguished young theatregoer and Simon Callow as the producer. But we playwrights so seldom get to see our wishes come true when it comes to casting. I'll leave it to the Royal Court, whether to put it on the stage or on the toilet wall. It knows best.

I'm not sure if the Royal Court will allow two efforts, but in the hope that this most challenging of all theatres will want to encourage debate, I will submit a second.

Cry of the Puzzled Theatregoer in Olympics Year

Puzzled theatregoer: Why are a number of theatres, including the Tricycle and some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's venues, closing down while the Olympics are on? I am puzzled.

Defeatist director: Well, we think that people will either be watching the athletics on TV, or avoiding the traffic problems and staying home.

Puzzled theatregoer: But surely you of all people should have faith that theatregoers will prioritise going to the theatre?

Defeatist director: Nope. Unless I can get Usain Bolt to play Hamlet, I'm shutting up shop.

Over to the Royal Court they go. I won't hold my breath, but I know that my heart will beat a little faster next time I visit the toilets there.

Do we still need the Orange Prize?

The longlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction, which aims to reward and encourage women novelists, was announced this week. It includes such well known and acclaimed writers as A L Kennedy, Anne Enright, Ali Smith and Emma Donoghue, and an intriguing newcomer in Madeline Miller, a teacher of Latin and ancient Greek, who has taken 10 years to write a novel about the love between Achilles and Patroclus in the Trojan Wars.

When the Orange longlist is announced in a week that includes International Women's Day, it would be inappropriate for me to question whether fiction really does need a prize for women, worse still to claim that it is deeply patronising. Certainly, I think that there are art forms where women are appallingly badly represented (film directing being a notable example), but novel writing doesn't seem to be one of them. It's the wrong week to voice any such opinions. So, instead of an opinion, two statistics. In the WH Smith fiction charts this week, the top 20 hardbacks contain 12 by women; the top 20 paperbacks contains 13 by women.

How to make a melodrama out of a perfectly good sitcom

The excellent and innovative theatre company Kneehigh is to stage a version of Steptoe and Son at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Emma Rice, who is adapting and directing the version, said this week: "I've tried to enable and reveal the heartbreaking and perfectly observed characters that had generations glued to their TVs for over a decade."

Well, either Emma has a very soft heart or I have a very hard one. I must have watched most episodes of the sitcom. It's brilliantly funny and, yes, has great emotional insight, beautifully drawn characters, and can be moving on occasion. But my heart remains unbroken. Don't overstate the case, Emma. It's a genuine television classic, but heartbreaking it ain't and never was.



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