Article Title

Rita, Sue and #Metoo: The Royal Court Theatre, London, and Liberalism


Mark O'Thomas


The #metoo movement, which emerged as a clarion call against sexism in the workplace, had its origins in the film industry and gained ground when a number of women (and in some cases men) drew attention to a communality of experience of suffering consistent sexual harassment and abuse from high-profile, high-status men. As the #metoo hashtag gathered momentum, its impact became felt more widely as it unearthed the long-standing and unacknowledged abuse of actors exerted by men in powerful positions over decades. In London, that bastion of cultural liberalism the Royal Court Theatre itself became embroiled in the debate when its artistic director Vicky Featherstone pulled the revival of Andrea Dunbar’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too from its 2018 season due to a number of allegations surfacing against the play’s original director (and former Artistic Director of the Court) Max Stafford-Clark. Due to the subsequent outcry against a play (which is itself about the sexual abuse of young women by an older man) being seemingly banned, the theatre then reversed this decision. At the same time, the Court took center stage in what then became a national debate as it promoted its own, newly formulated ‘code of behavior’ for the theatre industry—a document which articulated some of the issues and complexities of working with actors in areas where abuse might occur without being outwardly apparent (such as in the directing of scenes representing sexual intimacy or requiring nudity).

This article considers the role of the Royal Court Theatre in navigating the politics and consequences of #metoo, particularly in light of its relationship to other socio-political markers such as race and class. In doing so, it argues that questions of power and privilege cannot be masked or eclipsed by an assumed, all-pervasive liberalism, but rather that liberalism itself needs to be re-honed and re-owned in ways that embrace more risk and more radical interventions into the theatrical space.

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