Theatre Local @ Royal Court Theatre
By Paul Handley
Theatre Local is an initiative by the Royal Court Theatre (RC) aiming to extend the scope of its work into different environments. The rationale is mainly driven by economics and practicality, but also by a desire to investigate sustainability issues as they apply to the movement of work. It is located in a shop unit in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and will host productions that have been stripped down to their very basics, having completed fully resourced runs at the Royal Court in Sloane Square.
The main challenge in creating Theatre Local was doing the bare minimum necessary to create the performance space and auditorium out of an empty shop unit. As a result, the existing partition in the unit was left to create dressing rooms and office space, and the walls were left unpainted. Even though seats needed for each production had to be fixed down due to the concrete floor using sheets of plywood, the plywood sourced was FSC-approved and fully recyclable. For the actual seats the sofas, chairs and stools found in the RC's offices, bar and rehearsal spaces were used. Furthermore, attempts are being made to have some design ethos when developing sets despite current resistance from artistic directors, as well as borrowing and ethically purchasing equipment and props when possible. The first production at Theatre Local was a one-woman show called Random by Debbie Tucker Green. For the show’s requirements, just four lights on the actor were used, and the auditorium seating was transported to the unit using six vans. All staff traveled to and from Sloane Square by tube, and public transportation was actively advertised in prints and ticketing. The public was directed to local cafes and restaurants for drinks and refreshments, further reducing the need for ongoing transport and supplies in servicing the operation.
Even though this project was not a landmark environmentally aware project, and the initiatives taken were driven by cost rather than sustainability, the rationale is a start. The production department at the Royal Court already applies a sustainability filter due to financial constraints to all its decisions without compromising the artistic vision. Three more productions will be hosted at Theatre Local over the next six months, and each one will present a different opportunity to challenge the status quo and determine the minimum resources needed to maintain both the spirit and the meaning of the production. Part of that challenge will be to attract local audience, as opposed to the RC’s usual demographic at Sloane Square. If the productions prove to work in a minimal way and to a local audience, then all sorts of questions about how to move work around are raised.