‘Surprising’ new Caryl Churchill triple bill to open at Royal Court

Stories about Victorian spiritualism, the lithium-rich salt flats of Bolivia and a history of the Middle East told through water, as opposed to oil, will be staged at the Royal Court theatre in London over the next year.

There will also be a triple bill of new plays by Caryl Churchill, who turned 80 last year. Because she wants audiences to be surprised, not told what to expect, theatregoers will have to wait until they open in September to discover what they are about.

Vicky Featherstone, the theatre’s artistic director, announced on Wednesday a full year of work, rather than a season, to reflect that “we need to be thinking about many things at once”.

Featherstone hoped the diversity of voices and subjects would be seen as striking. “For various reasons we are increasingly myopic in order to just survive the world that we’re in. We’re always individualist about our existence.”

The plays at the Royal Court, a powerhouse of new writing for 63 years, will challenge that narrowness by ranging from the “incredibly specific, personal and small … to plays that take much, much bigger ideas and make you think on a global scale”.

Featherstone said she was always in the hands of the writers and their interests and no one is writing directly about Brexit. “How could they? It’s too broken.”

The three Churchill plays are called Glass, Kill and Bluebeard and will be performed over one evening, directed by the writer’s regular collaborator James Macdonald. “I always feel so moved and privileged that the Royal Court for so many years has been her home,” said Featherstone. “We don’t say anything about them as she believes the plays should speak for themselves. She wants audiences to be surprised by theatre. The thing I would say is that they are very different, in form and idea … I think they will be a real adventure.”

Other plays in the downstairs theatre include The Glow by Alistair McDowall, which explores the Victorian obsession for spiritualism and “reaching the other side”; Rare Earth Mettle by Al Smith which tells of the fight to own the salt flats in Bolivia, which are rich in lithium, required for electric car batteries; and Shoe Lady by EV Crowe which, intriguingly, will feature a speaking tree.

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, who hit headlines after her 2004 play Behzti (Dishonour) sparked riots and death threats, has her first play in the main space, titled A Kind of People.

Among the shows in the upstairs space are the provocatively titled Two Palestinians Go Dogging by Sami Ibrahim, and Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks, written and performed by Sarah Hanly. A History of Water in the Middle East by Sabrina Mahfouz will create unfamiliar versions of more familiar narratives.

Next March, the building will be given over to a season of works responding to the climate emergency. Featherstone said she had originally planned it for September but writers had told her they wanted more time to make more considered work.

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