Stewart, McKellen & Dench Lead Stars to StratfordDate: 11 July 2005
Advance casting announced today for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s year-long Shakespeare festival, The Complete Works, makes it likely that the 2006/7 season will be one of the starriest ever in Stratford-upon-Avon (See Today’s Other News). Amongst the leading actors who spent early portions of their career with the company and will now return for the event, launched next April, are Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Janet Suzman.
Stewart first joined the RSC in 1966 (See The Goss, 14 Mar 2005), appearing regularly in productions for Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, Peter Brook and others over 27 years before finding international fame as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek on television and film in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, he’s made a UK stage comeback, including West End productions of The Master Builder and, earlier this year, A Life in the Theatre. His last RSC season was in 1981/2 (pictured in that season’s production of The Winter’s Tale), although he remains an Honorary Associate Artist.
For The Complete Works, Stewart will Antony opposite Harriet Walters’ Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, directed by RSC associate director Gregory Doran in the Swan Theatre from 12 April to 14 October 2006, and Prospero in Doran’s new production of The Tempest, running from 28 July to 12 October 2006.
Dench, McKellen and Suzman will all feature in the second half of the year-long festival, for which the dates have not yet been finalised. Suzman will play Volumnia in Coriolanus in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (in addition to directing a South African production of Hamlet). Dench will play Mistress Quickly in a new musical adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor (music by Paul Englishby, lyrics by Ranjit bolt, revised book and director by Gregory Doran) in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre over Christmas 2006.
The festival will culminate in April 2007 with McKellen’s King Lear, directed by former RSC artistic director Trevor Nunn in the Courtyard Theatre (See The Goss, 7 Mar 2005). That production is part of a busy stage schedule for the actor, who is now better known internationally for his film appearances in The Lord of the Rings and (with Patrick Stewart) X Men. This Christmas, McKellen will reprise his role as Widow Twanky in Aladdin at the Old Vic, which he’ll follow up in February 2006 with the world premiere of Mark Ravenhill’s The Cut at the Donmar Warehouse (See News, 31 May 2005). His last role for the RSC was Iago in a 1989 production of Othello. Nunn’s new production will mark the first time that McKellen has attempted King Lear, although he has appeared twice before in the epic, once as Edgar and once as Kent.
Dench made her RSC comeback playing the Countess of Rossillion in 2003’s production of All's Well That Ends Well (also directed by Doran), which transferred to the West End last year. Prior to that, she’d had a 24-year absence from Stratford since playing Imogen in 1979’s Cymbeline. Dench will sing in the Merry Wives musical. Although she is best known for her multi award-winning dramatic roles on stage and screen, her previous musical credits include The Good Companions, A Little Night Music and Sally Bowles in the original West End production of Cabaret.
In a promotional film for The Complete Works, Dench explained her reasons for wanting to take part in the festival. “We’re in Shakespeare country. That makes a difference to me…. (as a playwright) Shakespeare gives you absolutely everything. He gives you the emotions like nobody else gives you. He gives you the words like nobody else gives you.”
- by Terri Paddock