National Theatre: Spring, Summer and Beyond

The National Theatre have made public their programme for summer 2006 and it contains much to excite.

The newly announced productions include a staging of Chekhov’s The Seagull, starring Juliet Stevenson as Madame Arkadina alongside former Hamlet wonder boy Ben Wishaw in the role of Konstantin. James Joyce’s Exiles will play in the Cottesloe and Simon Russell Beale will be tackling the title role in David Hare’s new version of Brecht’s The Life Of Galileo.

The latter production forms part of the theatre’s Travelex 10 season (an excellent scheme that could do with being instituted by more West End venues). And this year’s season has already kicked off with Trevor Nunn’s revival of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt Of The Sun. The production met with mixed reviews, most critics finding it rather dated, especially the first half, with its panpipe soundtrack (never a good thing), use of billowing sheets to represent the Andes and the kind of pretend horse-riding that would not have been out of place in Spamalot.

The Independent on Sunday’s Kate Basset called it “excruciatingly pass” and her sentiments were echoed by most of her colleagues, though, surprisingly, the Evening Standard’s famously hard to please Nicholas De Jongh was left quivering with pleasure by the play’s moving final scenes.

Nunn’s production is a curiously lumbering beast, it’s true, still thanks to the presence of Paterson Joseph as the Inca God-King, it’s also, once the messy first act is over, one of genuine warmth and energy – all in all not a bad way to get things started.

The season will continue with a new play by David Eldridge: Market Boy. Set at the height of Thatcherism, in Essex’s Romford Market, the play promises to explore the excesses of the 80s; the money and the drugs and the savagery of living for the hard sell. Market Boy will be directed by Rufus Norris, who also directed Eldridge’s widely acclaimed adaptation of Festen, and will be playing in the Olivier from the end of May.

Before that, Peter Gill’s production of The Vosey Inheritance by Harley Granville Barker and starring Julian Glover and Dominic West (the ever-so-dashing Orlando opposite Helen McCrory’s Rosalind in last year’s glossy West End As You Like It) will open in the Lyttelton, while the Cottesloe, the National’s smallest space, will stage Max Stafford Clarke’s production of The Overwhelming, a new play by JT Rogers. Produced in association with Out of Joint, the play tells the story of an American family caught up in the Rwandan genocide – a subject also recently explored by Michael Caton Jones’ film Shooting Dogs.

As we move into summer, the aforementioned Life Of Galileo opens at the Olivier, with Howard Davies on directorial duties. Its star, Simon Russell Beale, will stay on at the National for the final production in the Travelex 10 season: Nicholas Hytner’s take on Ben Jonson’s Jacobean comedy The Alchemist, set to open in September.

The summer months will also see the arrival of the Stevenson/Whishaw production of The Seagull; Katie Mitchell will direct and the play will open in the Lyttelton on 27 June. This will be followed by the UK premiere of Tony Kushner’s musical Caroline, or Change, which will be directed by George C Wolfe, who staged it on Broadway.

Looking further ahead still, there are sketchy plans for a new London-set musical – currently yet to be titled. What is known, however, is that the creative team behind this project will be the intriguing pairing of playwright Roy Williams and a certain Damon Albarn. A production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel War Horse is also on the cards. This comes on the heels of Bristol Old Vic’s moving production of Morpurgo’s WW1-set Private Peaceful and will be staged in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company.

But these projects aren’t likely to make it to the stage until 2007. Before that there will be a second chance to see Melly Still’s sell-out production of Coram Boy. Based on Jamila Gavin’s award-winning novel, this festive offering was, for some, alarmingly dark in tone and certainly not one for younger children. Still it proved incredibly popular and as a result it will be returning to the Olivier next winter and is set to run from late November throughout the Christmas period.

2005 was hardly a stellar year for the theatre, containing more curiously underwhelming and misjudged productions than one would expect – David Farr’s frantic Gogol update The UN Inspector and the flimsy, frothy Once In A Lifetime spring most immediately to mind – so it needs to deliver with this new line-up. There are some impressive names here certainly, it makes good reading, but whether this season can produce any classic National productions obviously remains to be seen.

Public booking for the new productions opens 4 May 2006.

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