Royal Court discovers the middle-class hero

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The Independent Culture

It was the theatre that created the original kitchen sink drama - Look Back in Anger - and has spent the last 50 years chronicling the lives of the downtrodden, alcoholic and dispossessed.

But overthrowing half a century of tradition, Dominic Cooke, the new artistic director of the Royal Court in London, is set to train the spotlight on the middle classes.

Unveiling the programme for his first year in the hot seat just vacated by Ian Rickson, Cooke said with more people in the middle class than ever, he wanted to focus on "what it means to have wealth and power and privilege".

"The main project of play-writing since the 1950s has been giving voice to the dispossessed," he said.

"But I want to celebrate the fact that in theatre, audiences will always have a component that is liberal middle class and there's nothing wrong with that.

"The liberal middle-class are often the movers and shakers and I think it's fascinating to present back to this middle class a complex picture of who they are."

The Royal Court is in the wealthiest borough in the country and its audiences walk past Hugo Boss and Tiffany's before watching a depiction of working-class experiences in Sheffield.

"It's very easy to objectify that and say, 'That's nothing like me.' So alongside that, I want to put work on that seems more immediately recognisable to them."

Cooke said he wanted to question the way the liberal middle classes live their lives contradicts the values they espouse and what happens when pillars of the liberal middle-class creed, such as the notion of multiculturalism, face difficult issues such as religious fundamentalism.

Plays such as The Pain and the Itch by Bruce Norris, to be staged this summer, are set in exactly that milieu, albeit the American equivalent against the backdrop of a cosy family Thanksgiving dinner.

But Cooke said his new policy was not a rejection of tradition, but rather in the mould of previous artistic directors such as Max Stafford-Clark, who presented Serious Money, Caryl Churchill's satire on the City, as well as Road, Jim Cartwright's dissection of lives in a deprived working-class area of Lancashire.

Alongside a pledge to chronicle the lives of the middle classes, Cooke announced a commitment to first-time writers.

Among the new works featured this year are three first plays. They are Leaves, a family drama set against the Irish Troubles by the Independent columnist Lucy Caldwell which won the George Devine Award; That Face, about parent-child relationships, by 20-year-old Polly Stenham and Alaska, about racism, by D C Moore.

The new programme in the main Jerwood Theatre Downstairs opens on 28 March with a presentation of the National Theatre of Scotland's production of The Wonderful World of Dissocia, written and directed by Anthony Neilson.

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