Artistic director Nicholas Hytner today announced details of the National Theatre’s new 2005 programming, which will see the return of the Travelex £10 Season as well as eight world premieres of work by playwrights including Mike Leigh, Howard Brenton, David Edgar, Simon Stephens and Dirty Pretty Things screenwriter Steven Knight, making his stage debut.

2005 marks the third and final year of the initial arrangement with Travelex for their corporate-sponsored season, in which two-thirds of the seats in the Olivier, the National’s largest auditorium, are reduced to just £10 with all other seats at £25. However, speaking this morning before starting the day’s rehearsals for his own productions of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, which launch this year’s season, Hytner gave his strongest assurance yet that the Whatsonstage.com Award-winning pricing experiment would continue under his helm.

“It is inconceivable to me that we could go forward without the £10 season running for six or seven months of the year.” He said working with Travelex had been “hugely” enjoyable and representatives from the company today confirmed that talks for another three-year arrangement are well advanced.

In the Olivier – Travelex £10 Season
As previously reported (See News, 17 Aug 2004), Michael Gambon will star as Falstaff in Hytner’s production of “the great English epic”, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2. The two plays open together on 4 May, following previews of Part 1 from 16 April and of Part 2 from 26 April, and continue in repertoire until August. The cast also includes David Bradley, David Harewood, Matthew Macfadyen, John Wood, John Carlisle, Ian Gelder and Naomi Frederick (See News, 7 Jan 2005).

The Shakespeare productions will be joined from 16 June 2005 (previews from 7 June), by the premiere of The UN Inspector, freely adapted from Gogol’s Russian satire The Government Inspector by David Farr (the Bristol Old Vic joint artistic director and artistic director designate of London’s Lyric Hammersmith), who also directs. A British businessman is spotted at the Marriott by government aides who mistake him for the dreaded UN inspector. Presidential panic ensues as ex-Soviet ministers try to cover up the corruption that lies at the State’s core.

The fourth and final production will be another politically-orientated premiere, David Edgar’s Playing with Fire, which will open in September 2005, though dates and a creative team have yet to be confirmed. Speaking today, Hytner described the piece as “a large, ambitious and very exciting play about contemporary domestic politics and the tensions that emerge from multi-culturalism”.

In the Lyttelton

As previously reported (See News, 10 Jan 2005), Jim Broadbent will star as the disgruntled Shakespearean thesp who takes poetic revenge on sniping drama critics in the stage adaptation of the 1973 cult classic horror film Theatre of Blood, which opens in the NT Lyttelton on 19 May 2005 (previews from 9 May) and continues in repertoire until September. The collaboration between the National and Improbable Theatre is written by Improbable’s Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott, who also directs. The cast also features Rachael Stirling (playing the part of Edward’s daughter, the role taken by her mother Diana Rigg in the film original), Sally Dexter, Hayley Carmichael, Paul Bentall, Nick Haverson, Mark Lockyer, Tim McMullan, Rachael Spence and Steve Steen.

Though exact dates have yet to be announced for further NT Lyttelton productions, from summer 2005 they will include: Tom Cairns’ new production of Irish playwright Brian Friel’s 1979 play Aristocrats (supported by a simultaneous NT Education mobile tour of Friel’s 1980 play Translations, directed by Sean Holmes, which will visit the NT Cottesloe for a fortnight in November); Katie Mitchell’s revival of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, originally staged as a studio piece at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs in 1997; physical theatre company DV8’s latest, Just for Show, running for nine performances only at the National as part of an international and UK tour; and Jonathan Kent’s production of Ibsen’s 1881 classic Ghosts, in a new version by Nicholas Wright.

In the Cottesloe

In the National’s smallest auditorium, the new schedule of new plays begins with a collaboration between the National and Cornwall-based Kneehigh Theatre, running from 12 April (previews from 4 April) to 7 June 2005. Tristan & Yseult, which Kneehigh first performed in 2003, brings the love story about the king who falls in love with his enemy’s sister into the 21st century. It’s directed and adapted by Kneehigh artistic director Emma Rice and written by Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy.

Tristan & Yseult is followed by another co-production, this one between the National and Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Simon Stephens’ new play On the Shore of the Wide World will first premiere in Manchester, where it runs from 18 April to 14 May 2005, before transferring to the Cottesloe from 26 May (previews from 20 May) to 22 August. Directed by Sarah Frankcom, the play crosses three generations of a family in modern Stockport where the boys are growing up fast.

In the summer and autumn (dates still tbc), the NT Cottesloe will house premieres of Paul, written by Howard Brenton (Romans in Britain) and directed by Howard Davies; Samuel Adamson’s modern South Bank-set Southwark Fair, which will be directed by Hytner in order to “give myself a break” from directing “monster shows in the Olivier”; and Steven Knight’s President of an Empty Room. The last was commissioned by the National after Hytner saw Stephen Frears’ 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things, which was Knight’s first screenplay. He was “so impressed”, Hytner said today, that “I assumed he (Knight) must be an experienced theatre writer. I was astonished that he had never written a play so I suggested he did so.”

And, in what is becoming a regular fixture for NT season announcements, the long-awaited, though still untitled, play written and directed by Mike Leigh is still due to join the Cottesloe repertoire in September. Hytner, who first announced the premiere at his debut press conference as NT artistic director two years ago (See News, 23 Jan 2003), today joked: “This will be the last time that I announce we’re doing a play by Mike Leigh. It will happen this year (in September). It would have happened earlier but Vera Drake (Leigh’s latest award-winning film) took over.” As with all of Leigh’s work, the piece will be developed improvisationally with the actors who are: Adam Godley, Samantha Spiro, John Burgess, Ben Caplan, Allan Corduner, Caroline Gruber, Nitzan Sharron and Alexis Zegerman.

- by Terri Paddock