Outside Elephant and Castle shopping centre in Southwark, I stop to get directions to the Royal Court Theatre. The first person I ask is a young man exuding an air of cool fatigue in a hoodie. He is nonplussed: "What are you talking about?"
His bemusement is understandable. The Royal Court's home is, after all, in Sloane Square – a rather more fashionable patch of London than the dour, concrete landscape we are standing in. But the capital's most important new-writing venue is branching out. A venture called Theatre Local is seeing a series of Royal Court productions pop up in a disused unit at Elephant and Castle shopping centre. The idea, according to artistic director, Dominic Cooke, is to "make new relationships with new audiences," presumably the sort that don't often hang out in Chelsea.
The first play in the Theatre Local season is Random, a 2008 play about the effects of urban violence on a black family by Debbie Tucker Green, a playwright with "a poet's feel for rhythm and a keen ear for urban patois," according to The Independent's Paul Taylor.
So what do the denizens of the shopping centre make of the theatre that has sprung up there? A beefy security guard tells me he is "quite interested in drama, but I am a bit lazy. Maybe now that it's on my doorstep, I'll get off my arse." Over in Lonnie's International Hair Salon, Betty Adjaye is teasing a woman's hair into a shape resembling whipped cream. She says: "people from the theatre have told us they're around and, yeah, I'll head over to see the play. Why not?" But Sharif, who works in a nearby coffee stand says: "Madam, how can I see the show? I wish I could, but I have to work here. When I am finished, it will be closed. It is a good idea, but it will take time to get customers to go."
The preview of Random I catch is largely attended by theatre students. Still, I manage to find one teenage girl who bought a cheap ticket at the last minute. "I come to the shopping centre with my friends," she says. "To be honest, I don't really like it here. But while I was watching the play I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else."
To 27 March, then touring in June (020-7565 5000; Royalcourttheatre.com)Reuse content