The Peter Hall Company at London's Old Vic has announced its inaugural, nine-month season, to run March 4-Dec. 6, 1997. The repertory company will play seven days a week, offer 10 performances a week and keep 12 plays in repertory during the 40-week season.
Fifteen actors will comprise "the nucleus" of the company, which will work specifically on classics of world drama. Among the company members are Felicity Kendal (Stoppard's India Ink) and Ben Kingsley (cinema's Gandhi and Betrayal), as well as Victoria Hamilton, Greg Hicks, Alan Howard and Michael Pennington. Sir Peter Hall serves as director of the company, which also boasts designer John Gunter and lighting designer Mark Henderson.
Also part of the mix will be "The New Plays," cast individually under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole, former artistic director of The Bush.
Here is the season schedule for The Peter Hall Company:
THE CLASSICS Waste: Peter Hall directs Harley Granville-Barker's 1907 drama, which was censored in London until 1936. Michael Pennington plays a politician whose career is wrecked by getting a married woman, Felicity Kendal, pregnant. (Begins March 4)
Cloud Nine: Tom Cairns directs Caryl Churchill's 1981 satire of sexual politics. (Begins March 10)
The Seagull: Peter Hall directs Tom Stoppard's new translation of Anton Chekhov's comedy/drama. Victoria Hamilton plays Nina, Felicity Kendal Madame Arkadina, and Michael Pennington is Trigorin. (Begins April 28).
The Provok'd Wife: Restoration play by Sir. John Vanbrugh, with Michael Pennington and Victoria Hamilton. (Begins June 23).
King Lear: Peter Hall directs William Shakespeare tragedy about a King who pays dearly for his churlish mood. Alan Howard is Lear, Victoria Hamilton Cordelia and Greg Hicks Edgar. The production will use the folio of 1623 (7 years after the author's death), which apparently incorporates revisions and Shakespeare's final thoughts on the play. (Begins Aug. 25).
THE NEW PLAYS
Hurly Burly: Wilson Mylam directs David Rabe's drama, which shows the American Dream as an oblivion of drugs, drink, sex and conflict. This is the Broadway hit's London premiere. (Begins March 23).
Prayers Of Sherkin by Sebastian Barry. A young woman, drawn from her home by a visionary quest that's obsessed generations of her family. (Begins May 18).
Grace Note: Dominic Dromgoole directs Samuel Adamson comedy, featuring Geraldine McEwan as Grace, who copes with children just waiting to get their hands on her inheritance. (Begins July 6).
Playhouse Creatures: April de Angelis comedy about the first women allowed to perform on the English stage, back in the 17th century. (Begins Sept. 14)
Snake In The Grass: Dominic Dromgoole directs Roy McGregor drama about an ugly truth rearing its head in the world of choir practice, freemasons and conformity. (Begins Oct. 12).
Shining Souls: Chris Hannon comedy as two lost souls, Charlie and Anne, collide and navigate their way through the wreckage. (Begins Nov. 9).
An article in the London theatre stagebill, "Performance," quotes Hall as saying of the New Play series, "The great thing for the authors is that they will have fully rehearsed, fully cast productions in a major theatre, reviewed by critics. And because we intend to run those shows for only six performances and one preview initially, they won't be facing the humiliation (and cost) of a failed run. If the piece does work, it can move into the repertory and continue to be played... If it's successful, it can also move to a West End theatre. So this is a three-tiered plan."
"There is a generation of actors and playwrights," continued Hall, "who are working on the fringe and at places like the Bush, who then get in a queue to be done at the Royal Court, and it's sometimes a very long queue... The West End doesn't do new plays anymore -- the risk is too great -- so there's a huge need for a new play space that's fairly big and commanding."
Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former artistic director of the Glyndebourne Festival, said he'd first shared the idea for a repertory company with Bill Kenwright, who didn't think it would work on the West End. David Mirvish loved the idea, though, and told Mira Friedlander of "Performance," "I know this is a higher risk than mounting a commercial run of a single production, but we're going to cut ticket prices across the board, making us more accessible financially than West End theatres. And there will be a membership, offering further discounts and first-choice seating... It's also attractive to the actors, because someone playing King Lear, for example, won't be stuck doing the show eight times a week."
The Old Vic Theatre, built in 1918, served as the home of the Royal National Theatre during the Olivier years. The RN eventually moved across the street, and Peter Hall became its head for 15 years, beginning in 1973. The space was was restored by producer Mirvish in 1983.
--By David Lefkowitz