The Royal Court Theatre is a non-commercial theatre on Sloane Square, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London. It is noted for its contributions to modern theatre. In 1956 it was acquired by and is home to a resident company, the English Stage Company.
The present building was built on the east side of Sloane Square, replacing the earlier building, and opened on 24 September 1888 as the New Court Theatre. Designed by Walter Emden and Bertie Crewe, it is constructed of fine red brick, moulded brick, and a stone facade in free Italianate style. Originally the theatre had a capacity of 841 in the stalls, dress circle, amphitheatre, and a gallery.
The first production in the new building was a play by Sydney Grundy called Mamma, starring Mrs. John Wood and John Hare, with Arthur Cecil and Eric Lewis.
Harley Granville-Barker managed the theatre for the first few years of the 20th century, and George Bernard Shaw's plays were produced at the Royal Court for a period. It ceased to be used as a theatre in 1932 but was used as a cinema from 1935 to 1940, until World War II bomb damage closed it.
The interior was reconstructed by Robert Cromie, the number of seats being reduced to under 500. The theatre re-opened in 1952. George Devine became artistic director and opened the English Stage Company at the Royal Court in 1956 as a subsidised theatre producing new British and foreign plays, together with some classical revivals. Devine aimed to create a writers' theatre, seeking to discover new writers and produce serious contemporary works. He produced John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in 1956, the first play identified as being by one of the Angry young men. During this period, the ESC became involved in issues of censorship. Their premiere productions of Osborne's A Patriot for Me and Saved by Edward Bond (both 1965) necessitated the theatre turn itself into a 'private members club' to circumvent the Lord Chamberlain, formally responsible for the licensing of plays until the Theatres Act 1968. The succès de scandale of the two plays helped to bring about the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK.
The theatre was Grade II listed in June 1972.
Over the last decade, the Royal Court has placed a renewed emphasis on the development and production of international work. By 1993, the British Council had begun its support of the International Residency programme (which started in 1989 as the Royal Court International Summer School) and by early 1996 a department solely dedicated to international work had been created. A creative dialogue now exists between innovative theatre writers and practitioners in many different countries including Brazil, Cuba, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Palestine, Romania, Russia, Spain, Syria and Uganda. Many of these projects are supported by the British Council and more recently by the Genesis Foundation, who also support the production of international plays. The International Department has been the recipient of a number of awards including the 1999 International Theatre Institute award.