Bright, octogenarian, playwrights wanted: Royal Court seeks new talent among over 80s

New artistic director Vicky Featherstone announced the plan to find older first-time playwrights

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Court Theatre in London has helped develop some of the finest young British playwrights to emerge in recent years. This summer it is looking to discover new voices from a surprising talent pool: the over 80s.

The theatre’s new artistic director Vicky Featherstone announced the plan to find older first-time playwrights today to develop work as part of a wider six-week summer season of plays and events.

She said: “The question was: ‘Why aren’t we giving those people a voice?’  What if you want to be a playwright in your 80s, why can’t you be?”

Playwright Penelope Skinner came up with the idea of bringing in a group of six to eight octogenarians to create a writing group.

They will each come up with a short play, developed with actors and a director, culminating with a staged reading at the theatre. Should new literary voices be discovered, the Royal Court could stage the works fully.

“It’s an incredibly exciting thing,” Ms Featherstone said. “If an interesting voice or series of voices emerge, we could put this together as a more formal part of the programme; I would definitely be open to that.”

Graduates of the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme include acclaimed playwrights Nick Payne, who wrote Constellations, Mike Bartlett, the author of My Child, and Laura Wade, whose play Posh transferred to the West End and is being adapted into a film.

Ms Featherstone said: “The Young Writers Programme is about getting people who have never really written before or thinking about writing and turn them onto it. The project with the over 80s is the same thing.”

She said it offered a creative outlet for a generation that rarely has a voice, outside of those who has been playwrights for much of their professional lives. “There are still a lot of brilliant playwrights in their 70s and 80s” she added.

These include Caryl Churchill, who is 74, Arnold Wesker, 80, and Alan Bennett, who is 78. David Seidler was 72 when he wrote the play of The King’s Speech which would go on to be adapted into the Oscar winning film of the same name.

Ms Featherstone started in the job on Monday and the summer will see a season of plays and events starting on 10 June, called Open Court.

The programme includes creating a repertory company performing a new play each week, readings, workshops, a nightly soap opera and plays by eight to 11 year olds.

On Valentine’s Day she invited 80 writers to come up with a programme, and later met a further 60. “I was going to give them the keys of the Royal Court for six weeks in the summer. What did they want to do with them?” She described the experimental programme as a “summer fling”.

Ms Featherstone will announce her first full season of plays in June, and announced Carrie Cracknell and John Tiffany were joining as associate directors.