In the same week that his inaugural Travelex £10 season won the Planet Hollywood Theatre Event of the Year prize in our Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards (See News, 3 Feb 2004), NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner unveiled details for this year’s Travelex programming in the Olivier, as well as an extension of the discount pricing to the first spring production in the Lyttelton.

Highlights of spring and summer 2004 repertoire across all three of the NT auditoria – announced at a press conference held today at the National - will include new plays by Alan Bennett, Antony Sher and Mike Leigh; major revivals of Sondheim, Euripides, Rostand and Marivaux; re-runs of Roy Williams’ Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials; and collaborations with Complicite and Improbable Theatre.

Playwright David Hare, who has described himself as ‘exiled’ from the National during the reign of Hytner’s predecessor Trevor Nunn, also features heavily with a return of his current railway hit The Permanent Way, a new translation of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba and, most headline-grabbingly, an as-yet-unwritten play about the war in Iraq and the policy makers behind the neo-conservative US group Project for a New American Century.

Though casting is ongoing amongst those already confirmed to appear at the National in the upcoming season include: Stephen Rea, Claire Price, Zubin Varla, Malcolm Storry, Paul Rhys, Toby Jones, Frances de la Tour, Adrian Scarborough, Desmond Barrit and Antony Sher.

In the Olivier

The first production in the 2004 £10 season will be Cyrano de Bergerac, in a new version by Irish poet Derek Mahon, directed by Howard Davies and designed by William Dudley and starring Stephen Rea in the title role as the witty but ugly swordsman, poet and philosopher who woos his love on behalf of another. Claire Price plays Roxanne, with Zubin Varla as Christian and Malcolm Storry as De Guiche. It runs from 19 April to 24 June 2004 (previews from 10 April).

It’s joined in the repertoire, from 27 May to 31 July 2004 (previews from 17 May), by Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, directed by Simon McBurney, co-founder and artistic director of Complicite, who are co-producing. The cast will be led by Naomi Frederick as Isabella, Paul Rhys as Angelo with The Play What I Wrote Olivier Award winner Toby Jones as Lucio.

Though exact dates have yet to be announced for the other two offerings in the 2004 £10 season, the productions are confirmed. Edward Hall’s revival of the 1962 Roman-set musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) will open in July with Desmond Barrit playing Pseudolus. In September, Hytner himself will direct the new Hare play, Stuff Happens.

It takes its title from a quote made in April 2003 by US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld: “Stuff happens …. And it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things”. Rumsfeld, as well as now American vice-president Dick Cheney, were signatories of a letter addressed to President Clinton in 1998, which advocated that one of the chief strategies for securing a New American Century was the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Speaking today, Hytner avoided specifics on the piece, which is still being researched, but said that Stuff Happens will “react to the events we’ve all just lived through” and, though different positions would be explored, he hopes it will “be sceptical of the line our authorities have taken”. Rumsfeld and Cheney, as well as George Bush and Tony Blair, are likely to appear as characters alongside fictional ones.

Also in the Olivier, running from December 2004 to March 2005, Nicholas Wright’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, will make a return, for which the cast is yet to be announced.

In the Lyttelton

The Olivier’s £10 pricing will be extended to the Lyttelton where, from 3 April to 1 May 2004, Out of Joint’s co-production of David Hare’s The Permanent Way, currently enjoying a sell-out season in the Cottesloe, will return for a straight run before continuing a UK tour. It’s directed by Out of Joint’s Max Stafford-Clark.

Alan Bennett’s The History Boys will premiere on 18 May 2004 (previews from 8 May). Directed by Hytner - who previously directed Bennett’s The Wind in the Willows, The Lady in the Van and, on stage and screen The Madness of George III - Frances de la Tour will star in the new play about staffroom rivalry, the anarchy of adolescences, and the best way to teach history in sixth form. It’s designed by Bob Crowley.

The History Boys will be joined in repertoire, from 22 June 2004 (previews from 12 June), by Katie Mitchell’s production of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, about a wartime ship commander who sacrifices his daughter to the gods in return for a favourable sailing wind. The Greek classic is translated by Don Taylor and designed by Hildegarde Bechtler. Further ahead in the Lyttelton, Howard Davies will direct David Hare’s new version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba.

In the Cottesloe

After a three-week extension of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman (now booking to 17 April 2004), the new Cottesloe season will open Roy Williams’ Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads, which was previously seen in the temporary Lyttelton Loft as part of the Transformation season of new work in 2002. Set in a South London pub as tensions rise during the European football championships of 2000, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads will play from 30 April to 26 June 2004 (previews from 23 April), in the run-up to Euro 2004. It’s directed by Paul Miller and designed by Hayden Griffin.

From 6 to 13 May (preview 5 May), Improbable Theatre’s devised piece Lifegame, first staged in 1998, will play for ten performances only. Each night a different guest is interviewed about their life story, which is spontaneously transformed into a piece of theatre. (Improbable are continuing to work with the NT on a new devised piece about the 1970s cult film classic, Theatre of Blood.)

Marivaux’s 18th-century comedy about sexual manners and the cruelties of courtship, The False Servant, in a new version by Martin Crimp, joins the Cottesloe repertoire from 1 June 2004 (previews from 26 May). It’s directed by former Almeida joint artistic director Jonathan Kent and designed by Paul Brown. The cast includes Adrian Scarborough and David Collings.

Further ahead, the Cottesloe will house: Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s second play, The Night Season; a one-man play about the Italian writer and scientist Primo Levi, If This is a Man, written and performed by Antony Sher and directed by Richard Wilson; a revival of Nikolai Erdman’s ‘lost’ Russian farce The Mandate, in a new version by Cheek by Jowl’s Declan Donnellan, who also directs, with design by Nick Ormerod; and an unnamed new play by Mike Leigh, which begins rehearsals next winter.

- by Terri Paddock