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David Lister

David Lister: A theatre where new writing has flourished

Individual theatres fall in and out of vogue and usually not too much can be read into a flurry of award nominations for any one playhouse. But the 15 Olivier nominations for the Royal Court are significant. It is the key centre for new writing in Britain, and if the Royal Court is doing well then it says something about the health of contemporary playwriting.

As the current batch of nominations shows, plays perhaps more than any other art form are engaging with the issues of the day. From Jez Butterworth's lament for the passing of rural individualism in Jerusalem to Lucy Prebble's sparkling take on the financial crisis in Enron to gay mores in Cock and young heterosexual angst in The Priory, the Royal Court's success highlights that it is theatre, more than film or the novel, which currently holds up a mirror to society.

Even among the playwrights not shortlisted, there are the likes of Polly Stenham, whose uncompromising portraits of urban life are bringing in new and youthful audiences. The excellent Dominic Cooke has in his time as artistic director made the Court more unpredictable and mixed modern interpretations of famous texts with contemporary works. But it is on new writing that the Court will be judged, and if it is doing well, then that means that a new generation of both writers and audiences is turning to the theatre to make sense of the world.