While now best known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the new Star Trek as well as, more recently, Professor Xavier in the film X Men, Stewart is a classically trained actor. His stage credits include The Tempest and a one-man adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Last year, he became notorious for his Broadway role in Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt Morgan, during which he used the curtain calls as an opportunity to publicly criticise the producers for their lack of marketing support.
Stewart previously worked with West Yorkshire Playhouse artistic director Jude Kelly, who will direct Johnson Over Jordan, in the 1997 production of Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC. Kelly’s many credits include the recent hit musical Singin in the Rain which transferred to London (the National Theatre), where it is now in contention for four Olivier awards, including Outstanding Musical Production. She was also responsible for luring Stewart’s X Men co-star and fellow stage veteran, Ian McKellen, away from the capital two years ago to perform in an acclaimed repertory season in Leeds.
Johnson over Jordan is one of Priestley’s lesser-known and least naturalistic pieces; it has not been revived since its original London opening in 1939. Kelly has described it as a “Yorkshire version of It’s a Wonderful Life”, about a dead man who looks back over his life. Priestley’s seminal drama, An Inspector Calls, written in 1946, was revived famously by the National Theatre in 1991 in a neo-expressionistic production by Stephen Daldry. It won 19 awards and, after a season on Broadway, transferred to the West End where it continues to play at the Garrick Theatre.
To accompany the production of Johnson Over Jordan, the West Yorkshire Playhouse will host a JB Priestley conference in association with the University of Texas which holds the largest collection of Priestley papers in the world. Again, dates are yet to be confirmed.
Booking for the autumn run will open in April.
- by Terri Paddock