Royal Court's artistic director enjoys multi-successes

Last summer, rumors flew: Dominic Cooke was quitting. Who would follow his astoundingly successful tenure as a.d. of the Royal Court? No one. Cooke recently, and typically quietly, renewed his contract at the helm of the U.K’s most exciting and influential new-writing theater.

In 2010, the Court’s writers have swept the boards at awards ceremonies, and, for the first time since the 1960s, two consecutive main stage productions – Lucy Prebble’s “Enron” and Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” – transferred to SRO West End runs.

“Enron” burned on Broadway but its extended eight-month London run won rhapsodic notices and it is currently on a U.K. tour. “Jerusalem” featured a career-best Mark Rylance winning every London best actor gong and there are unconfirmed plans that Sonia Friedman will produce it on Broadway in 2011. Prior to that, Cooke’s shockingly funny production of Bruce Norris’s “Clybourne Park” will also move to the West End after having smashed the Court’s box-office record three times over.

Yet, what’s remarkable about Cooke’s programming is less the headline hits and more the consistent level of daring. In contrast to New York where most new plays languish in workshop, the Court averages between 12 and 16 full-scale productions per year, none of which is a safe bet. “What’s so exciting,” says Cooke, “is that there’s clearly an appetite for provocative plays. Not every play has to be ‘an issue’ but there’s a real audience for that work. And compared with film, theater costs less and the turnaround is quicker. If you want to write a play, it can be on in six months.”

That does happen under Cooke’s aegis. But the majority of the productions are born out of long-range development, with up to 150 scripts at some stage of development.

Cooke is hugely energized by next year’s first two shows. Simon Stephens returns in April with “Wastwater,” directed by Katie Mitchell, a triptych of seemingly separate stories that turn out to be linked by past events. “It’s quite formally challenging,” he observes, “which I like.”

First up, previewing from Feb. 4, is “The Heretic” by Richard Bean, directed by Jeremy Herrin. “It’s a provocation,” says Cooke, enthusiastically, “about science and belief and the orthodoxy surrounding CO2 and climate change that so many people believe without understanding the science. And although it may not sound like it, it’s very funny.”

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Hollywood on the thames | Nina Raine returns to writing roots | Dominic Cooke continues winning streak

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