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London’s Royal Court to uncover next generation of northern playwrights

London's Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey London's Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
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The Royal Court has set up a writers’ group specifically for playwrights in the north of England, in order to bridge what it sees as a widening north/south divide.

The London new-writing theatre already runs a successful writers’ group programme for emerging talent that has helped launch the careers of playwrights including Lucy Prebble, Mike Bartlett and Alice Birch.

This has now been extended to nurture northern writers in their home regions, in partnership with Northern Stage and development agency New Writing North, which are both based in Newcastle.

Nine writers have been selected for the first run of the scheme, comprising around seven sessions that will take place at Northern Stage, delivered by playwrights including Simon Stephens, Alistair McDowall and Stacey Gregg.

At the end of the course the writers will develop the work they have created with actors and directors.

Royal Court associate director Lucy Morrison, who is running the programme, told The Stage that despite good work being created by theatres in the area, opportunities for new talent were still too few.

She said: “I do feel that the north/south divide is greater than it was when I first came down to London. It just feels like a lot of the wealth and opportunity is concentrated in the South East.”

Morrison said she hoped the group might uncover a writer that the Royal Court commissions in the future, but that the scheme would also contribute to a landscape in which theatre writers are properly supported.

“You lose writers to TV if there aren’t enough opportunities to develop your craft in the theatre. I want to stop that happening, so that talent is not getting siphoned into telly – which I understand; it’s economic, it’s a necessity – but a lot of writers who have written to us have said very clearly that theatre is their first love and we have to love them back.”

A second phase is planned for 2018, and will recruit a smaller group of writers to work towards public performances at the Royal Court and Northern Stage.

To be eligible, writers need to have lived in the North West, Yorkshire or the North East for at least two years.

Mark Calvert, associate director at Northern Stage, said working with the Royal Court could generate opportunities for playwrights in the north that might not otherwise come their way.

“It’s very rare that opportunities like this come along and the Royal Court is such an enormous brand to have access to. It was really necessary for us to do it.

“We can be so narrow in our view of where talent lies. It’s about balancing that diversity of voices in our industry that allows us to have a wider conversation about what the voice of our nation is at the moment, and what it is saying.”

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