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Obituary: Elyse Dodgson – Royal Court’s international director who was a ‘tireless champion of playwrights’

Elyse Dodgson. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As the Royal Court Theatre’s international director for more than 20 years, Elyse Dodgson introduced British audiences to writers and plays from around the world while reinforcing the Sloane Square venue’s international profile.

Her tireless championing of playwrights took her to 70 countries around the globe and saw her working with texts in 40 languages, some 30 of which she subsequently produced at the Royal Court.

The English Stage Company’s home had been her first port of call when she arrived in London from her native New York in 1966 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, rushing from the airport to see a production on her first evening in the UK.

After graduating, she worked with touring company Brighton Combination before returning to London as head of drama at the girls-only Vauxhall Manor comprehensive school.

Joining the Royal Court in 1985 at Max Stafford-Clark’s invitation – the first of five artistic directors she worked with – as director of young people’s theatre, during Stephen Daldry’s stewardship she established its international department in 1996.

She grew the project into a crucible for international collaboration, bringing a host of playwrights to London, instigating a thriving programme of international residencies – originally under the banner of the International Summer School – and venturing on numerous foreign trips with a veritable who’s who of British directors and playwrights in tow.

One of her most notable projects was instigating David Hare’s Via Dolorosa, a deeply affecting response to the complexity of contemporary Jewish-Palestinian politics, seen at the Duchess Theatre in 2002.

Demonstrating a particular affinity with writers working in contested territories, she established especially meaningful relationships with Russia’s Vassily Sigarev, whose Plasticine received the Evening Standard’s most promising playwright award in 2002, and the Palestinian poet Dalia Taha, whose Fireworks was seen at the Royal Court in 2015.

Her instinctive ability to spot young talent saw several writers who were showcased in Sloane Square going on to become major figures at home, notably India’s Anupama Chandrasekhar, Brazilian Marcos Barbosa, Ukrainian Natalia Vorozhbit and playwrights in Syria and Palestine.

She edited several collections of plays by German, Spanish, Mexican and Arab writers and published two books: New Directions in Drama Teaching (1982) and Motherland: West Indian Women to Britain in the 1950s (1984).

Elyse Anne Dodgson (nee Kramer) was born on August 26, 1945, and died on October 23, aged 73. She was made an MBE in 2010 and is survived by two children from her first marriage to the actor John Dodgson.

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