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Vicky Featherstone: ‘Caryl Churchill persuaded me to reinstate Rita, Sue and Bob Too’

Vicky Featherstone. Photo: Dave Benett

Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone has revealed playwright Caryl Churchill persuaded her to reinstate a cancelled production of Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

At the end of last year, Featherstone announced the Andrea Dunbar play would not be running at the Royal Court because it had originally been directed by Max Stafford-Clark. Stafford Clark was forced to leave theatre company Out of Joint, [1]which is co-producer of the play, following allegations of sexual harassment.

Two days later, Featherstone backtracked on that decision. The play is now running [2]at the Sloane Square venue.

Speaking to Front Row [3], Featherstone said she had initially cancelled the run because she felt there was not a “prism with which we could look at that piece of work and acknowledge those stories of abuse”, referring to the Royal Court’s day of action [4]. This saw people’s experiences of abuse read out on stage.

But she revealed “a conversation with the very brilliant Caryl Churchill” had changed her mind. She described Churchill as a “visionary woman who helps me think about the world in different ways”.

“I had an incredible hour-long conversation with her and discussed what I felt about it. In the end, she said ‘The Royal Court is always at its best when it’s at its most dangerous. If you dare to make the decision to put it back on you will have changed the lens with which people look at the production. You will have created the context that you felt you could not create before’,” Featherstone revealed.

Featherstone added that Churchill’s “wisdom helped me understand a new way through”. She said the playwright had asked why Dunbar’s voice should be “blocked or dumbed down” because of the “actions of some men”.

The artistic director revealed differences in the way the play has been performed on tour and at the Royal Court.

On tour, she said audiences had been finding some parts of the show very funny.

“But there’s a defiance in the way they are performing it here, that says ‘Don’t you dare laugh. You need to think about what we’re saying’. It’s a triumphant moment for the play,” she said.