Ever since I met Vicky Featherstone, she has always made me nervous. She's never shown me anything other than unlimited kindness and support, but, like with a crush, I often find myself struggling to hold her eye. I met her on her first day as the first-ever female artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre in London. I was in a writing group in the building when she came in to say hello. I knew nothing of her biography — knew nothing of her work with the late, iconic playwright Sarah Kane, or how she had set up the National Theatre of Scotland — but after hearing her say just a few words about her intended future for the theater, she excited me.
The Royal Court has a worldwide reputation for excellence in finding and producing the best new writing. But Vicky wanted to cast a wider net. She wanted the building to feel accessible to all.
I watched her open her first season in September 2013, beginning with Dennis Kelly’s Royal Court debut of The Ritual Slaughter of Georg Mastromas. It was a master class in storytelling. Vicky staged a wickedly bold and humorous production, taking the audience on a twisted Faustian trip. It was then that I understood that to be in Vicky’s presence is to be around someone who not only seems to be having the most fun in every room she inhabits but also is an exceptional talent who generously prioritizes both actor and script.
In the time Vicky has occupied the building, she has actively thrown open the doors to welcome completely different audiences and artists: Nonprofessional actors have performed in professionally run shows. We’ve seen teenagers from local colleges, who had never known what the building was, and children as young as six, writing and performing their own work. Even the programming of the main stage feels more varied than that of her predecessors, with Vicky ensuring that obvious successes like Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman share the stage with the genius powerhouse that is Alice Birch’s Royal Court debut, Anatomy of a Suicide.
Vicky makes me want to be a better creative. The world in which she produces her work is joyous and safe; it’s one in which she’s reaching out both arms for people from all walks of life to come join her. Thanks to Vicky, the world of theater feels inclusive.
I sat down with Vicky in her office at the Royal Court Theatre on a bright and sunny day, overlooking Sloane Square. We talked about being women and taking your place in the world.
Rachel De-lahay: Why theater?
Vicky Featherstone: [I do theater] because I am addicted to that live relationship with the audience. I’m obsessed with empathy. That’s why I think theater is so extraordinary, because you come in as yourself and you experience something which isn’t you, isn’t your life.
RD: Why this building?
VF: I always got really bored of old plays. The classics have a place, but I’m really only interested in the voices of now and stories of now. I get so bored when people blow smoke up people’s arses for reinterpreting the classics for today, and I’m like, Why aren’t we enabling a writer to write us a story that is now?
RD: Rather than just playing a rock song mid-way …
VF: Yes. I love Bruce Springsteen, but is he relevant for now? No. Beyoncé is.
The Royal Court was created 60 years ago to be an opposition to the classics and the elite West End, to bring voices onto the stage that had never had that platform before. That’s what excites me about the Royal Court.