Nicholas Hytner and Katie Mitchell are the big names in David Byrne’s first season at the Royal Court

Would it be melodramatic to say this is the most important Royal Court season in decades?


But the Sloane Square new writing powerhouse has had a difficult few years since the pandemic, with reports of financial difficulties, a string of critical flops, and public criticism from playwrights over its lack of communication with writers. 

Incoming artistic director David Byrne – no, not the Talking Heads guy – therefore needs to both turn in a season of exciting new writing that shows the Court is still relevant, while also programming plays that look like hits. If not West End transfer smashes then at least getting bums on seats in the larger Downstairs theatre.

And it looks very much like he’s done that, with a season he’s summed up as ‘maximum adventure’.

To address the big stuff first, the first Downstairs show will be ‘Bluets’ (May 17-Jun 29), the legendary avant-garde director Katie Mitchell’s adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s meditation on loss, grief and the colour blue (previously staged in Germany, this English version has text by rising star Margaret Perry). While undoubtedly pretty leftfield, Mitchell is a huge name in hipster theatre circles, and if that wasn’t enough, she’s brought along Paddington himself Ben Whishaw to co-star.

In the summer it’ll play host to the short run of ‘ECHO (Every Cold Hearted Oxygen)’ (Jul 13-27), a new play from provocative Iranian exile Nassim Soleimanpour that’s part of the LIFT festival.

And then in the autumn comes the biggest show of the season: Nicholas Hytner directing ‘Giant’ (Sep 20-Nov 16), a play by first-time writer Mark Rosenblatt about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism, starring US actor John Lithgow. It sounds fascinating, but is also a startling piece of programming: under previous boss Vicky Featherstone it felt like the Royal Court was virtually in opposition to the world of former National Theatre boss Hytner; inviting him into the fold certainly suggests Byrne is willing to make the theatre a broad church.

Upstairs, and six plays have been announced, all by newcomers to the theatre. ‘Dugsi Dayz’ (May 1-18) by Sabrina Ali is a Somalia-set comedy inspired by the classic ’80s film ‘The Breakfast Club’. Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s ‘Lie Low’ (May 22-Jun 8) is an acclaimed Irish show that explores the human brain and its response to sexual assault. Stewart Pringle’s ‘The Bounds’ (Jun 13-Jul 13) is a dark, folk horror-inflected footballing comedy set in 1554. ‘G’ (Aug 22-Sep 21) by Tife Kusoro is a dark urban drama about three Black boys’ disintegrating friendship. Oli Forsythe’s ‘Brace Brace’ (Oct 3-Nov 9) is about two survivors of a plane hijack trying to reconcile their extremely different responses to the events. Finally, Emteaz Hussain’s ‘Expendable’ (Nov 21-Dec 21) is a drama about the overlooked voices of British-Pakistani women with regards to the northern grooming gang scandals of the ’90s to ’10s.

Tickets to the season will go on general sale at noon on March 11.

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