Looks at the 2008 London Theatre Season

Special Features Looks at the 2008 London Theatre Season
For the New York theatregoer, who is so accustomed to seeing the best actors disappear to the West Coast for years at a time, it is nothing less than astonishing to see how often Britain's finest players can be found on the London boards. Seeing Judi Dench or Ian McKellen or Maggie Smith in the flesh is a fairly common occurrence in the West End and surrounding area, not a once-in-a-blue-moon event.
Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes

The London 2008 winter and spring season will feature appearances by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Helen McCrory, Jane Horrocks, Jeremy Irons, Janet McTeer and Simon Russell Beale.

Two of these stars, Fiennes and McTeer, can be found in the latest work by the reality-twisting French playwright, Yasmina Reza, The God of Carnage. The satire, which will also star Tamsin Greig and Ken Stott, will begin previews at the West End's Gielgud Theatre March 7. Matthew Warchus, an old hand at Reza's work, will direct. Fiennes will play a lawyer father whose nine-year-old boy hits another child on the playground. The parents of the injured kid then ask Fiennes and his wife over to hash out the matter.

Jane Horrocks, a British star still perhaps best known for creating the title role in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and, more recently, an unorthodox Prime Minister in television's "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard," will headline a new Young Vic production of Brecht's The Good Soul of Szechuan. Horrocks will play Shen Te, the good-hearted prostitute who must lead a tricky double existence in order to lead a decent, moral life. Performances begin May 8. Richard Jones directs.

Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking
photo by Joan Marcus

Helen McCrory, the actress who has triumphed on stages at the National, Royal Shakespeare Company and Donmar Warehouse (and who was seen at BAM in Sam Mendes' double bill of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night), will act in Ibsen's tale of guilt, guile and morality, Rosmersholm. The production will begin at the Almeida Theatre on May 15, with Anthony Page directing. Vanessa Redgrave will reprise her Broadway performance in The Year of Magical Thinking, novelist Joan Didion's account of the death of her husband and the ensuing practical and emotional repercussions. It will begin April 30 on the National's Lyttelton stage. And, beginning March 19, film star Jeremy Irons will make a rare stage appearance, playing the lead in Never So Good, Howard Brenton's play about British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Also gracing the stage of the National is Simon Russell Beale, the ever-busy performer who is arguably the most prominent British actor of his generation. Starting Feb. 26, he will portray ruthless industrialist Undershaft in Shaw's Major Barbara. There's no stopping Beale from acting, so, the following summer, the National will again host him in a revival of Harold Pinter's A Slight Ache.

Playwright Harold Pinter

Pinter's oeuvre is getting some good exercise over the next few months. The Homecoming, which is currently gracing Broadway, will get a new production at the Almeida Theatre beginning Jan. 31. Michael Attenborough will direct Kenneth Cranham, Jenny Jules, Nigel Lindsay and Neil Dudgeon in the cryptic tale of familial conflict. In May, meanwhile, Pinter's The Birthday Party will be revived at West London's Lyric Hammersmith theatre, where the play made its world premiere in 1958. The 50th anniversary production will be helmed by the Lyric's artistic director, David Farr, with previews that begin May 8. Getting an even more rigorous workout will be playwright Mark Ravenhill, whose new cycle of 17 plays is called Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat (a very characteristic title form Ravenhill, the author of Shopping and Fucking). The collection will be staged in various venues — ?including Sloane Square and the South Bank — around London in conjunction The Gate Theatre, Out of Joint, Paines Plough and The Royal Court. Four of the plays will be staged at National's Lyttelton and Cottesloe theatres in April. The cycle explores the personal and political effect of war on modern life.

Also due at the National is, in June, Michael Frayn's new drama, Afterlife; James Macdonald's revival of Peter Handke's play without words, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other; Fram, Tony Harrison's new play about the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen starring Jasper Britton and Sian Thomas, beginning April 17; Melly Still's production of Middleton's Elizabethan play The Revenger's Tragedy with Rory Kinnear in the role of Vindice, in June.

Laura Michelle Kelly

For London theatregoers with an appetite for American fare, the Old Vic is providing a juicy attraction in David Mamet's Hollywood satire Speed-the-Plow, starring Jeff Goldblum, Laura Michelle Kelly (the London stage's original Mary Poppins) and Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey. The busy Matthew Warchus will direct. Performances begin Feb. 1. Director John Doyle — recently a Broadway name for his innovative revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company — ?will return to the work of Stephen Sondheim. His spin on the backwards-running tale of disillusionment, Merrily We Roll Along, began previews Jan. 16 at the Watermill.

The Almeida will offer Stephen Adly Giurgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in a co-production with Headlong Theatre. Rupert Goold will direct the piece, which starts March 29. The Old Vic, meanwhile, will offer an unusual revival of Thomas Babe's A Prayer for My Daughter, beginning Jan. 31. The American Babe was one of the proteges of Joseph Papp and had many of his plays produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival, including Prayer, which bowed in 1978. Babe died in 2000 and hasn't been thought of much since, so the Old Vic will provide a rare opportunity for English audiences to discover his talent. Dominic Hill's production features American actor Corey Johnson and Colin Morgan.

Penelope Wilton

A couple other rarely seen works will find the spotlight at the Donmar Warehouse in the coming months. Arthur Miller's fairly obscure first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, about a young man who incurs worry and guilt as he watches himself succeed while all else around him fail, will start up on Feb. 25 with Sean Holmes at the helm. And The Chalk Garden, a largely forgotten 1955 work by "National Velvet" author Enid Bagnold, will live again June 2 as Michael Grandage (of Frost/Nixon) directs Penelope Wilton in the piece about a mysterious governess and a inquisitive child.

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