Jeremy Irons (pictured) will join the line-up of stars – including, as previously announced (See News, 2 Oct 2007), Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Juliette Binoche – treading the boards at the National Theatre in 2008, which Nicholas Hytner describes as his “most ambitious year” yet since taking over as artistic director five years ago. Irons, making his NT debut, will star as former prime minister Harold Macmillan in the world premiere of Never So Good, a new play by Romans in Britain author Howard Brenton which joins the rep in March.

Other new programme highlights in 2008, outlined at a press conference held at the NT today, include: new plays by Michael Frayn, Tony Harrison, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Simon Stephens, Samuel Adamson and Mark Ravenhill; revivals of The Revenger’s Tragedy, Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and Pinter’s A Slight Ache, starring Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw and Simon Russell Beale respectively; a new production of Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn’s 1977 “play for actors and orchestra” Every Good Boy Deserves Favour; and a London premiere for Lee Hall’s acclaimed The Pitman Painters.

The 2008 schedule will also include, as previously announced (See News, 2 Oct 2007), Vanessa Redgrave in the Broadway transfer of The Year of Magical Thinking; George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, led by Simon Russell Beale and Clare Higgins (See News, 17 Nov 2007); Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan’s premiere dance-based piece; and [Jonathan Kent’s long-planned staging of Sophocles’ Oedipus, with Ralph Fiennes in the title role.

Commenting on the programme, Hytner said today: “2008 will be the most ambitious year since I became the National's director. It will be marked above all by the extraordinary confidence of British playwriting, which is in evidence all over the country, at theatres large and small. We have four new plays from the current great generation of major English playwrights, and eight from their successors. Many of them are on an epic scale, and they share the repertoire with an unprecedented profusion of classics, devised shows, physical theatre and dance theatre. The National is only part of a surge of creative energy throughout the British theatre and I'm looking forward to seeing the results on our stages.”

Further ahead, in early 2009, Hytner also confirmed that David Hare’s new play, entitled Gethsemane, will receive its world premiere, directed by Howard Davies, and director Deborah Warner and actress Fiona Shaw, whose NT production of Beckett’s Happy Days had its New York premiere this month, will reteam for a revival of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, with Shaw in the title role.


In the NT Olivier

Five productions will comprise this year’s Travelex £10 Season in the 1,100-seat NT Olivier. Following the opening production – Hytner’s own revival of Shaw’s 1905 play Major Barbara, which opens on 4 March 2008 (previews from 26 February) – the season continues with Fram, Tony Harrison’s new play about the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, which will open on 17 April. Harrison himself directs the world premiere, which will star Jasper Britton and Sian Thomas.

The Travelex schedule continues over the summer with: in June, Thomas Middleton’s bloody Elizabethan classic The Revenger’s Tragedy, directed by Melly Still, with Rory Kinnear as the vengeful Vindice; in July, the premiere of Her Naked Skin, a new play by Rebecca Lenkiewicz set against the backdrop of the Suffragette movement, directed by Howard Davies; and in August, with Stoppard and Previn’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, a co-production with Southbank Sinfonia.

Come the autumn in the NT Olivier, Jonathan Kent will direct Ralph Fiennes in the title role of Sophocles’ ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus, in a new version by Frank McGuinness which opens at the National in October ahead of a worldwide tour (See News, 12 Sep 2006); and this Christmas’ wildly acclaimed adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel War Horse, featuring life-sized equine puppets by South African company Handspring, will return for another festive engagement from November.

In the Lyttelton

In the 900-seat NT Lyttelton (See News, 17 Nov 2007), the February opening of James Macdonald’s play without words The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other will be joined in rep from 19 March by Howard Brenton’s Never So Good, directed by NT associate Howard Davies. According to Hytner, the new play “explores what kind of compromises – both personal and ideological – are required by those who reach the top in democratic politics”. Jeremy Irons, who made a rare return to the stage in the 2006 West End premiere of Embers, plays Harold Macmillan, the Conservative politician who was prime minister from 1957 to 1963, in a cast that will also feature Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill.

Opening on 30 April, Vanessa Redgrave recreates her 2007 Tony Award-nominated performance in the UK premiere of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s one-woman play based on her autobiographical book about bereavement. It’s directed by playwright David Hare and, following its South Bank dates, will tour nationally and internationally.

Afterlife, Michael Frayn’s first new play since Democracy, which premiered at the National in 2003 before West End and Broadway transfers, will open in the NT Lyttelton in June. It investigates the life of the Austrian impresario and founder of the Salzburg Festival, Max Reinhardt. Frayn’s long-term collaborator Michael Blakemore directs.

Further ahead in the Lyttelton, Simon Russell Beale will star in a revival of Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter’s 1961 short three-hander A Slight Ache, which will have a run of early evening performances over the summer; the as-yet untitled new work co-directed and performed by Bangladeshi dancer dancer/choreographer Akram Khan and French screen actress Juliette Binoche and designed by Turner Prize-winning Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor will premiere in September; and physical theatre company DV8 will return in October with Lloyd Newson’s new piece To Be Straight with You, at the start of a world tour.


In the Cottesloe

In the 400-seat NT Cottesloe, 2008 kicks off, as previously announced (See News, 14 Nov 2007), with this month’s premiere of Lucinda Coxon’s new play Happy Now?, directed by Thea Sharrock and starring Olivia Williams, and next month’s launch of a trio of new plays for teenagers – Roy WilliamsBaby Girl, Dennis Kelly’s DNA and Lin Coghlan’s The Miracle - after which NT associate Marianne Elliott will direct the April premiere of Simon StephensHarper Regan, starring Lesley Sharp.

Over the summer, Katie Mitchell will create a new production based on Dostoyevsky’s 1869 Russian novel The Idiot in July, starring Ben Whishaw who played Konstantin in Mitchell’s 2006 NT staging of The Seagull; and the director’s 2006 adaptation of another literary classic, Virginia Woolf’s Waves will return for briefly in August before touring. In addition, Max Roberts’ production of Lee Hall’s new play The Pitman Painters, premiered at Newcastle’s Live Theatre last September, will transfer with its original cast, and in November, Marianne Elliott will direct the premiere of Mrs Affleck, a 1950s Manchester-set reimagining of Ibsen’s 1895 classic Little Eyolf, written by Samuel Adamson, with whom Elliot had a 2005 hit with Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community (See The Goss, 20 Nov 2007).

The National will also join forces with the Royal Court (See News, 8 Nov 2007), as well as the Gate Theatre, Out of Joint and Paines Plough to present Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat, a cycle of 17 plays which arose out of the playwright’s Fringe First-winning challenge to write a new 30-minute play every day at last year’s Edinburgh Festival (See News, 17 Aug 2007). Four of the Ravenhill plays will be presented in the Lyttelton and Cottesloe Theatres in April as part of the collaboration which sees the full cycle mounted at various venues across London.

- by Terri Paddock