Royal Court in squabble over new Gaza play

By Jenni Frazer, May 7, 2009

A new spat has broken out following the staging of controversial Royal Court play Seven Jewish Children, by Caryl Churchill.

A non-Jewish writer, Richard Stirling, wrote his own response, Seven Other Children, which opened this week at Hampstead’s New End Theatre.

But Mr Stirling’s intention to read out correspondence between himself and the Royal Court’s artistic director, Dominic Cooke, as part of his New End production, received a dusty response from the Royal Court. It sent him a legal letter refusing permission and reminding him that copyright in the letter was Mr Cooke’s.

A spokesman for the Royal Court said this week: “It came to the attention of the Royal Court that Mr Stirling intended to read a personal letter that he had received from our artistic director, written in response to the submission of his play Seven Other Children. This reading was to have taken place at a performance of Seven Other Children at the New End theatre.

“Had Mr Stirling asked the Royal Court’s permission to do this, the Royal Court would have freely given it. We have no issue with Mr Stirling’s play itself, and we congratulate him on the New End Theatre’s decision to stage it.

“The Royal Court Theatre is simply asserting its right to protect the private correspondence of its artistic director. We wish Mr Stirling had contacted us beforehand to obtain permission, and all this could have been avoided.”

Mr Stirling, however, said this week that he had never intended to read out the entirety of Mr Cooke’s response. He had not contacted the Royal Court for permission, he said, “because I wasn’t certain how much I was going to quote”.

He added: “I don’t respect the right of the Royal Court to dictate the parameters of this debate. I don’t feel that it is responsible in 10 minutes to sum up the Middle East by tracing an arc between the Jews as victims of Nazism and present-day Israel.”

Mr Stirling noted that the Royal Court’s associate director, Ramin Gray, had been asked if the theatre would have put on a play critical of Islam.

Mr Gray had responded: “You would have to think twice if you were honest. It’s very hard because you’d worry that if you caused offence then the whole enterprise would become buried in a sea of controversy.”

Mr Stirling said: “I would suggest that the Royal Court has done exactly that in programming Seven Jewish Children.”

Last updated: 11:50am, May 7 2009