Matthew Warchus' staging of Hamlet will inaugurate the Royal Shakespeare Company's four-week stand at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center. The production, which stars Alex Jennings, opens June 9 at the Eisenhower Theater and runs through June 21. The troupe will then continue in the Eisenhower with Cymbeline, playing June 24-July 5.
Meanwhile, in the smaller Terrace Theater, the RSC will present Henry VIII June 9-21, Everyman June 23-28, and Krapp's Last Tape June 17 and 19. The RSC recently ended a stint at New York City's Brooklyn Academy of the Arts.
Though the Royal Shakespeare Company of England has visited the U.S. many times, nothing matches in scope or ambition their current stay. Beginning at BAM and continuing at the Kennedy Center, the RSC is presenting five different plays in repertory at the Brooklyn institution, thus replicating, for the first time in America, their usual modus operandi when at home at Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Two-time Olivier-Award-winning actor Alex Jennings, who was Oberon on Broadway in the 1996 RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and whose boisterous Peer Gynt that same season beat out the likes of Michael Gambon and Daniel Massey for Best Actor Olivier honors, is seen in the title role of the RSC's Hamlet.
Hamlet gives American audiences a look at Art director Warchus' approach to Shakespeare. Warchus has sheared the Bard's most famous play of all political meaning, fashioning it as a fast-paced revenge drama. Thus, Fortinbras has been eliminated. Furthermore, the tragedy opens not with the traditional sighting of the ghost at the guards' watch, but on a film depicting child Hamlet happily playing with his parents. The stage action then skips to the party scene at the castle and it is there where Hamlet first sees his father's spirit. Warshus has realigned some of the action and introduced into the sound design pop songs by the British groups Oasis and The Verve. The company also takes a contemporary approach to Cymbeline. Noble has borrowed Warchus' scissors, excising 1,000 lines, and added one sentence at the play's beginning: "There once was a king called Cymbeline." That opening aptly sets up the director's fairy-tale, Disneyesque approach to the work. The third Shakespearean offering, Henry VIII, takes a more traditional approach, under the direction of Gregory Doran
The 16th century Everyman was last given a professional production in England in 1901. Here it is resurrected by Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni, members of the Theatre de Complicite, the same celebrated company which recently brought Ionesco's The Chairs to Broadway. The solemn allegorical tale of a doomed sinner is enlivened with the Complicite's usual visual flair and fleet pace.
Krapp's Last Tape is performed and co-directed (with David Hunt) by esteemed British veteran Edward Petherbridge. Theatregoers who take in all five plays will also see Petherbridge as the Ghost in Hamlet and in the title role in Cymbeline. Other members of the ensemble include Paul Jessor (who will play Henry VIII), Jane Lapotaire (Queen Katherine), Ian Hogg (Wolsey), Derbhle Crotty (Ophelia), Paul Freeman (Claudius), Joanne Pearce (Imogen), William Houston (Laertes), Joseph Mydell (Everyman), and Susanna York (Gertrude).
For more information or tickets to the Washington DC performances, call (202) 467-4600.
-- By Robert Simonson