#metoo Arts Culture Fitness Theatre

‘London theatre seems incredibly small-minded’

The fraught production of Rita Sue and Bob Too at the Royal Court. Photo: The Other Richard

On 13 December 2017, Vicky Featherstone did one thing she had by no means achieved earlier than: she cancelled a play.

The Royal Courtroom had been as a consequence of stage a touring revival of Andrea Dunbar’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too the next month. Then harassment allegations towards its director Max Stafford-Clark, the subject material of the 1987 play – by which teenaged women are groomed by an older man – and a febrile post-Weinstein environment by which the London theatre had led the best way in interrogating the business’s dangerous behaviour meant one thing felt off. Or within the phrases of the assertion, “highly conflictual.”

It didn’t play nicely. The theatre was accused of censorship and of silencing a younger, working-class, feminine playwright’s voice. Featherstone, appointed the theatre’s first feminine inventive director in 2013, was “rocked to her core”. She listened – she is sweet at that – and on 15 December 2017, the manufacturing was reinstated.

Learn extra: The Royal Courtroom Theatre has silenced ladies at a time they most must be heard

“It was really difficult”, she says of her “two mad decisions”, which had been colored partially by the truth that within the play, Bob quizzes the women about their virginity, simply as Stafford-Clark, 76, was reported to have quizzed younger feminine staff at his firm, Out of Joint.

“I felt that we had to take responsibility for the fact that the context had changed within which that piece of work had been programmed and made and who was directing it. I made the decision to take it off, which I think was right. And then, when we were accused of censoring the writer, which we never wanted to do, the only way you can prove that is action – putting it back on.”

The fraught production of Rita Sue and Bob Too at the Royal Court. Photo: The Other RichardThe fraught manufacturing of Rita Sue and Bob Too on the Royal Courtroom. Photograph: The Different Richard

A yr on from this – and far else – we’re sitting in Featherstone’s covetable workplace above the theatre, overlooking Sloane Sq., she, brisk at her desk in a sensible mustard smock, me on a trendy gray couch that Featherstone poached from the set of One for Sorrow earlier this yr. There are thanks playing cards in all places, a putting black-and-white photograph of the Royal Courtroom’s founder George Devine, a doll of Ripley from Alien and, on the wall simply above her desk, a small, round tapestry embroidered prettily with the phrase ‘TWAT’.

Featherstone, 51, is on a break from rehearsals for The Cane, Mark Ravenhill’s twisted household drama a few retiring schoolmaster, Edward (performed by Alun Armstrong) whose pupils demand justice once they uncover that he caned youngsters earlier in his profession. “They’re snowflakes,” says his spouse, Maureen (Maggie Steed).

“These children now can hunt out anybody’s grievance and claim it as their own… They want to be offended.”

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Ravenhill was impressed to put in writing it when he was jolted awake in the midst of the night time by the thought that corporal punishment had nonetheless been authorized when he was at college. Caning was outlawed in 1986 which means that some academics who doled it out could possibly be retiring now; it was a tantalising prospect.

That was three years in the past. “Before #MeToo, before any exposure of abuses of power had happened publicly,” says Featherstone. “Mark, and writers generally, are always ahead of the current moment. They’re like shamen, really.”

Alun Armstrong and Maggie Steed in The Cane. Photo: Johan PerssonAlun Armstrong and Maggie Steed in The Cane. Photograph: Johan Persson

The modern resonances round male abuses of energy, mob justice and the way we punish reprehensible behaviour, historic and present, are deafening. Edward’s daughter Anna (Nicola Walker) urges her father to “stand before the school, acknowledge past mistakes are made, recognise the mistakes, that the mistakes have been learnt from and that they won’t be made in the future and ask forgiveness.”

“It’s about the death of patriarchy,” says Featherstone merely. “About how we finally have to bring something down so it can’t happen again. It’s about the fact that we live in a world where institutionally that kind of thing was accepted behaviour. And once we start a conversation around the fact that that shouldn’t happen anymore, what do you do with the cane, with the people who were caned, and with the people who caned? In British society, we brush it all under the carpet and pretend it didn’t happen.”

Featherstone took the precise reverse strategy to #MeToo and theatre’s half in it. “Everybody knew about it and everybody who says they didn’t know about it is a liar,” she says now of Kevin Spacey, who was accused of 20 situations of inappropriate behaviour whereas inventive director on the Previous Vic Theatre. And what about Stafford-Clark?

‘It’s about what behaviours are normalised. The place individuals might say, ‘he’s an excellent director, in order that’s okay’’

“Yes! They did know about Max Stafford-Clark. That’s the point. It’s about what behaviours are normalised. Where people could say, ‘he’s a brilliant director, so that’s ok’. It took a young woman [Gina Abolins, Out of Joint’s education manager] who had nothing to lose and wasn’t part of that historical narrative to say, ‘That isn’t ok.’”

Inside every week of the information of Stafford-Clark being faraway from his personal firm, Featherstone had organised a “day of action” on the Royal Courtroom, “to address and strive to end abuses of power that have led to sexual harassment in the theatre industry.”

Over the course of greater than 5 hours one Saturday afternoon in October 2017, 150 tales of sexual harassment have been learn out on stage, together with 11 accounts of rape. Afterwards the theatre drew up a code of behaviour, drawing strains on bodily contact, working practices and reporting abuse, which is pasted up on the partitions of the theatre now. Individuals throughout the business nonetheless come to her for recommendation. “People want to be heard,” she says. “We have to be patient and listen.”

Nicola Walker in The Cane, directed by Vicky Featherstone, Photo: Johan PerssonNicola Walker in The Cane, directed by Vicky Featherstone. Photograph: Johan Persson

How have issues modified over the previous yr? “This time final yr felt like change was about to occur. Though the entire thing was very surprising, everyone felt incredibly galvanised by it.

“A year on, in some areas, we’ve made progress. We now have better ways to talk about it… But then there’s frustration now that we haven’t broken through all of the problems that people still have. Last year there was a kind of promise that that would happen, and it’s really hard because it’s so systemic. There’s not enough happening in theatre. And there’s also not enough happening elsewhere.”

‘There’s frustration now that we haven’t damaged by way of all the issues that folks nonetheless have. Final yr there was a sort of promise that that might occur’

Her outspokenness on the difficulty noticed her named probably the most influential individual in British theatre in The Stage 100 energy listing in January. She, together with Josie Rourke, is on the vanguard of what’s quick turning into a tidal wave of girls answerable for British theatres. Within the final yr, Michelle Terry has taken over at Shakespeare’s Globe, Roxana Silbert at Hampstead, Nadia Fall at Theatre Stratford East, Rachel O’Riordan at Lyric, Hammersmith, Lynette Linton on the Bush and Indhu Rubasingham on the Kiln, and that’s simply in London.

“I was first an artistic director at Paines Plough when I was 28 years old and no-one ever wrote about that… The shift has been happening for a while,” says Featherstone.

“What we’re acknowledging is that theatre changes most quickly when the change is with the people who have power. If the boards and leadership team are certain kinds of people with certain kinds of education who behave in certain ways, it’s only ever hand-me-downs to give people opportunity. Now it’s become people being in control of the decisions they make to change whole organisations. That’s really exciting.”

The Ferryman was a major Royal Court hit show. Photo: Johan PerssonThe Ferryman was a serious Royal Courtroom hit and is now operating on Broadway. Photograph: Johan Persson

Having run the Nationwide Theatre of Scotland for 9 years earlier than arriving on the Royal Courtroom, does she now have her eye on London’s Nationwide Theatre? “No I don’t think so,” she says. “Though I think it’s an amazing, incredibly important institution.” She was born in Surrey however spent the primary seven years of life in Clackmannanshire, Scotland. 

“My entire job in Scotland for 9 years had been about what’s a nationwide theatre? And you then get right here and London – regardless that I like it – abruptly seems incredibly small-minded in a method. Everyone seems to be measuring success towards one other London theatre, not by itself deserves.

“You end up comparing yourself against your peers and actually that’s quite unhealthy. I was quite shocked about how much that happened. Suddenly I felt, ‘my god I’m being compared the whole time to the Donmar, the Almeida, the National. Why can’t we just be allowed to exist and do what we’re doing?’”

‘We normally only get one star from The Times and one of our friends only reads The Times so he’s all the time taking a look at me with actual ache in his eyes, like, god is Vicky alright?’

Featherstone’s regime has had some huge hits – Hangmen and The Ferryman each went to the West Finish, then to Broadway – however she says she isn’t preoccupied with field workplace. “Not at all. When they come it feels like a gift, but if we tried to chase it, we would become quite mediocre. Although we’d love to have another Jerusalem, what’s important for us is to go on is who is the writer? What are they writing? And does it deserve a place here?”

She is equally sanguine about flops and dangerous evaluations. “We normally only get one star from The Times and one of our friends only reads The Times so he’s always looking at me with real pain in his eyes. Like, ‘god is Vicky alright?’ I’m absolutely fine.”

She is, by her personal admission, a stressed inventive director. “I get bored quite easily. I’m obsessed with change, I’m always looking for the next thing.’” She has simply introduced a brand new programme of labor for 2019, which incorporates new performs by Jack Thorne, Abhishek Majumdar, Anchuli Felicia King, a co-production with Talawa Theatre Firm and 7 strategies of killing kylie jenner, a brand new play by Jasmine Lee-Jones, which grew out of a day of occasions devoted to Andrea Dunbar.

The season is numerous within the broadest sense of the phrase. “We’re at our best when we’re doing something challenging, when we’re ahead of public taste. It’s about the boundaries these artists are pushing at – not just who they are,” she says. “So when you say, ‘what is it that you want to say?’ and they say, ‘I want to say it like this’, you think, oh my god that’s much more exciting than putting on a straight, well-made play by so-and-so.”

‘We’re at our greatest once we’re doing one thing difficult, once we’re forward of public style’

And with that, comes totally different audiences, although she isn’t fascinated by what many theatres do – placing on “one play by a writer of colour in a season”.

“How are you going to build audiences, shift audiences from that? You want to have people come and say, ‘I’m going to come back and see the next thing’. That’s how a traditional, white, middle-class theatre-goer thinks – ‘There’s going to be loads of stuff for us.’”

Thanks sister. We’ll maintain being higher for you. ❤️#Elysedodgson pic.twitter.com/P7sQvG2JCT

— Vicky Featherstone (@vicfeatherstone) November 12, 2018

As for Brexit, which the theatre will mark with a Brexit Massive Band and Leavers’ Meeting on the weekend of 29 March, she is each livid – “I feel very strongly that the desire for Brexit shows a lack of empathy and understanding about our place in the world” – and anxious about her European employees and funding streams.

Elyse Dodgson, the theatre’s much-loved worldwide director had simply arrange a residency with EU writers earlier than she died out of the blue final month, aged 73. Her desk continues to be as she left it. “We haven’t been able to move anything. It’s been really tragic for us and for this incredible community of writers she’s worked with for 30 years,” she says.

Featherstone has now been on the Royal Courtroom for 5 years. What do the subsequent 5 years maintain? Nothing lower than revolution, it seems. “We’re just on the cusp of questioning what the structures are, who owns them and how the best work is made. I don’t know what the end point of that is, but it’s about how we enable this thing that we can all feel starting in theatre, but that hasn’t happened. Yet.”

The Cane, Royal Courtroom Theatre, London, to 26 January 2019 (020 7565 5000)