TV EYE With James Rampton
The Eye on TV: THE ROYAL COURT ON CAMERA
Saturday 02 November 1996
"Royal Court Diaries", a film for Omnibus, contains the requisite number of tantrums and swear-words - we are, after all, dealing with artists, darling - but there is no question of the participants being done up like kippers by the documentary-makers, because the documentary-makers are Stephen Daldry, artistic director at the Royal Court, and David Lan, its writer-in-residence.
Lan, the principal photographer on the project who shot a massive 74 hours of footage, says connoisseurs of the stitch-up will be disappointed. "I wasn't after scandal," he declares. "It was just a portrait of what happened. All Nigel Williams (Omnibus's editor) said was: `Here's the camera, off you go. Follow your noses'."
Charting the year following the award in September 1995 of a pounds 15.8m National Lottery grant for rebuilding the theatre, "Royal Court Diaries" puts the idea of change centre-stage. Unlike The House, however, this film portrays it not through extravagant scenes of telephone-throwing and bravura sacking, but through a rather less glamorous accumulation of meetings with the Arts Council and the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Building Committee. Vikki Heywood, executive director at the theatre, says with understandable exasperation at one point: "The only thing that is going to stop us is officialdom."
The meetings are none the less telling in themselves. They capture that sense of being involved with organisations in the throes of administrative cataclysm. In one scene, the financial director of the theatre tells Daldry that "there's a jittery feeling in this building", to which he replies: "People are always jittery about change."
Daldry expands on this. "Change can be incredibly empowering if handled right. Theatres are like football clubs. You're either expanding and getting better, or standing still and getting worse. You're either being promoted or relegated."
Lan is keen to generalise from the specific case of his own theatre. "It's that moment of reassessment," he observes, "when you think: `What is good in this country? What do we want to hold onto?' It's a question of what you keep and what you get rid of. It exists powerfully for individuals as well as institutions. You only think about it in times of crisis. When things break down, your old way of looking at the world doesn't work anymore."
The two producers of the film are trusting that it will help with what they admit is an image problem for theatre people. "I'm the 97th person to say it, but I hope it puts a stop to all this `luvvies' business," Lan asserts, with feeling. "Camus said: `If you do art and it goes badly, you can't complain because nobody asked you to do it.' But when you look at people who are really good at their job dismissed contemptuously as luvvies, you think the critics have missed the point. In the film, you get a picture of people who are playful, but whose commitment is absolute."
It is a sentiment that Daldry wholeheartedly endorses. "There's a sense that people don't understand theatres," he opines. "Anything that gives people access to what we do can only be to the good. Maybe people think theatres are run by luvvies or irresponsible people. We live in a time of philistinism. In that climate, it's good to show artistic organisations not being silly but engaging in the real world.
"In terms of the politics of the Lottery," he concludes, "it's important to see money being spent with care, integrity and correct budgetary control. It's not manna from heaven for luvvies rushing around with cheque books."
Omnibus's `Royal Court Diaries' is on Tue 10.45pm BBC1
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Watching the Box (Wed BBC1) A documentary watching us watching TV.
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