An August Autumn

Special Features   An August Autumn
A preview of the fall 2008 London season.
David Hare
David Hare Photo by Aubrey Reuben

There are certain elements one can count on when approaching a new London theatre season. Top stage actors is one. A few guest appearances by American playwrights is another. A handful of Shakespeares, of course. And, if one is very lucky, a new play by David Hare.

The fall 2008 London line-up has all that and more. Since Hare has already been mentioned, let's start with him. Titled Gethsemane, the playwright's new work will debut at the National Theatre (opening Nov. 11 at the Cottesloe, to be exact), as have 13 of Hare's works before it. Howard Davies will direct a cast that includes the National Theatre debut of the television and Olivier Award-winning actress Tamsin Greig. The new play is described as being about British public life, "looking at the way business, media and politics are now intertwined to nobody's advantage."

Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County
photo by Joan Marcus

The National's Lyttleton will host what will undoubtedly be one of the events of the fall: the Steppenwolf production of Tracy Letts' multi-award-winning August: Osage County, which begins performances on Nov. 21 for a run to Jan. 21, 2009. Tony winners Deanna Dunagan as Violet Weston and Rondi Reed as Mattie Fae Aitken will repeat their Broadway work, as will the most unhappy three sisters to hit the stage since Chekhov: Mariann Mayberry as Karen Weston, Amy Morton as Barbara Fordham and Sally Murphy as Ivy Weston. Other National attractions include a new Oedipus, which begins performances on Oct. 8 and reunites actor Ralph Fiennes and director Jonathan Kent; and a dance piece called In-i, created, directed and performed by film actress Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan, which began performances in the Lyttelton Theatre Sept. 6.

The season at the Donmar Warehouse — which will be working out of its usual Covent Garden home as well as the West End's Wyndham's Theatre — is no less impressive in terms of talent. At Wyndham's, Kenneth Branagh has taken on the disaffected title character in a new production of Chekhov's Ivanov, adapted by Tom Stoppard and directed by Michael Grandage, which opened Sept. 17. Branagh will be followed by Derek Jacobi's Malvolio in Twelfth Night, another Grandage production, beginning Dec. 5. At Covent Garden, Alan Rickman will guide Tom Burke, Anna Chancellor and Owen Teale through a new look at Strindberg's terse three-hander, Creditors.

Stephen Rea and Sam Shephard
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Almeida Theatre continues its relationship with American dramatists; it opened its season Sept. 5 with Kicking a Dead Horse, the Sam Shepard drama that played the Public Theater in New York this past summer. Stephen Rea again starred in the drama, which ended its limited run Sept. 20. On Nov. 20 performances will begin on Neil LaBute's In a Dark, Dark House, with Michael Attenborough at the helm. The play ran Off-Broadway at MCC Theater in 2007. In between those two Yankee works, director Samuel West will re-examine Harley Granville-Barker's classic political drama, Waste, which will star Will Keen as the besieged politician Henry Trebell. An American writer — Christopher Shinn — can be found at the Royal Court as well, where the young playwright's Now or Later bowed Sept. 3 and has been extended through Nov. 1. Soon after Mark Ravenhill will bring Paradise Regained. The play's not nearly as long as the same-named epic poem by Milton; it runs only 20 minutes. Ravenhill conceived of it as a capper to Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat, his previous cycle of short plays.

One of the most talked-about West End commercial productions is the stage reworking of the Dustin Hoffman-Tom Cruise film Rain Man, about young hotshot Charlie Babbitt and his autistic savant older brother Raymond. The show stars film actor Josh Harnett (making his West End debut) as Charlie and Adam Godley as Raymond, and has already experienced its share of bumps. Original director David Grindley left during early rehearsals, and his duties were taken over by director/playwright Terry Johnson. Recently, it delayed its opening date from Sept. 9 to Sept. 19.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The London premiere of Andrew Upton's Riflemind — which premiered in Sydney last year — is directed by American film star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Currently in previews at the West End's Trafalgar Studios, the story centers on the reunion of an iconic rock band called Riflemind, 20 years after their frontman John supposedly walked off for good. Any stage appearance by legendary British actor Michael Gambon amounts to an event these days. So an upcoming revival of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land should cull its share of press and ticket sales. Gambon appears as the wealthy Hirst and David Bradly as the impoverished poet Spooner in the cryptic tale of two old men who may or may not have an old score to settle. Rupert Goold, who piloted the recent Patrick Stewart Macbeth, directs the Gate Theatre production, which begins previews Sept. 27 at the Duke of York's.

Musical fans will want to keep an eye on a new West End revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel, beginning previews Nov. 22 and opening Dec. 2 at the Savoy. Lindsay Posner directs Jeremiah James as carnival barker Billy Bigelow and Alexandra Silber as his love Julie Jordan. The show was famously revived in London in the early nineties by Nicholas Hytner, in a production that traveled to Broadway. A U.K. national tour will precede the London stop.

Among the significant West End transfers this fall are the move of the Menier Chocolate Factory's revival of Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles to the Playhouse on Oct. 20, with Douglas Hodge as Albin and Denis Lawson as George, who also directs; the hit revival of the Pam Gems bio-play Piaf, starring Elena Roger, which will travel from the Donmar Warehouse to the Vaudeville Oct. 16; and Rupert Goold's production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, which began this past summer at Chichester's Minerva Theatre and is now playing the West End's Gielgud Theatre.

Further attractions of the fall include Menier's new production of the Jacobean masterpiece The White Devil, directed by Jonathan Munby, starting Oct. 3; and a new Hamlet, starring David Tennant and directed by Gregory Doran, a Royal Shakespeare Theatre mounting starting Dec. 3 at the Novello. Hey, what's a London season without a new Hamlet?

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