Artistic director Nicholas Hytner today announced details of the National Theatre’s new 2006 programming, which will see the continuation for a fourth year of the Travelex £10 Season as well as new plays by David Eldridge and Conor McPherson, the UK premiere of Broadway musical Caroline, Or Change and a line-up of stars including Juliet Stevenson, Ben Whishaw, Paterson Joseph, Julian Glover, Dominic West and, working together for the first time, Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings.

Speaking today, Hytner said that much of the new programming was driven by what was “possessing artists” at large: “The most urgent theme of the moment seems to be the clash between reason and unreason, secular thinking and religious faith,” he said, adding “we do seem to be stuck fighting all the battles of the Enlightenment again”.

As such, he said, “it felt like The Life of Galileo (Bertolt Brecht’s 1943 play is about Galileo Galilei whose 17th-century scientific discoveries clashed with the Church) had to be done” as did several other programming choices - Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and The Overwhelming, a new play by American JT Rogers.

In the Olivier – Travelex £10 Season

Playwright David Eldridge and director Rufus Norris - who garnered multiple awards for their stage version of cult Dogme film Festen, including last year’s Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best New Play - will reunite this June when both make their National Theatre debuts with the world premiere of Eldridge’s Market Boy. The play – set in 1985 in Romford Market, where a young boy learns the lessons of Thatcherite economics – is the second production in this year’s Travelex £10 Season, in which two-thirds of tickets in the 1,100-seat NT Olivier are reduced to £10.

The first, as previously announced (See News, 10 Nov 2005), is Trevor Nunn’s revival of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, which opens on 12 April 2006 (previews from 30 March). In it, Alun Armstrong and Philip Voss will now be joined by a cast including Paterson Joseph, Oliver Cotton, Darrell D'Silva, Paul Ritter and Malcolm Storry. In the cast of Eldridge’s Market Boy, which opens on 6 June 2006 (previews from 26 May), are: Jonathan Cullen, John Marquez, Paul Moriarty, Claire Rushbrook and, in the title role, Danny Worters.

It will be joined in rep (exact dates still tbc) in July by David Hare’s new version of The Life of Galileo, directed by Howard Davies and starring Simon Russell Beale (See The Goss, 26 Jul 2005), who will reappear in September for the final Travelex production, Ben Jonson’s Jacobean comedy The Alchemist, directed by Hytner and co-starring Alex Jennings.

Speaking today, Hytner said, “My particular treat this year will be to bring together for the first time two of my best friends in the theatre, who have never worked together before.” He predicted that the pairing of Russell Beale and Jennings, both multi award-winning actors, could be the “John Gielgud/Ralph Richardson partnership of our day”.

After the Travelex £10 Season, Melly Still’s sell-out production of Coram Boy, Helen Edmundson’s stage adaptation of Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Award-winning children’s book, will return to the Olivier for another Christmas run from 29 November 2006 to 20 January 2007.

In the Lyttelton

In the Lyttelton, Peter Gill will direct The Voysey Inheritance, running in rep from 25 April to 17 June 2006 (previews from 18 April). In Harley Granville Barker’s 1903 play, Edward’s highly principled world turns upside down when his father reveals that he has been illegally speculating with clients’ money. Julian Glover will play Mr Voysey with Dominic West making his NT debut as Edward. Also in the cast are Lucy Briers and Nancy Carroll.

In June (exact dates still tbc), Katie Mitchell will return to the Lyttelton, where she previously had a hit with Three Sisters, to direct Martin Crimp’s new version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, starring Juliet Stevenson as Madame Arkadina and Ben Whishaw as Konstantin. Mitchell will follow that in November with Crimp’s own 1997 play Attempts on Her Life.

In October (See The Goss, 14 Sep 2005), American George C Wolfe will present the UK premiere of Broadway musical Caroline, or Change, which has a book and lyrics by Tony Kushner (whose two-part play Angels in America ran at the National in 1992/93) and music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie. Wolfe directed the New York production which ran on Broadway in summer 2004 following an initial sell-out at New York’s Public Theater. Set in Louisiana in 1963, Caroline, or Change tells the story of a black maid to a Southern Jewish family during the civil rights movement.

Of the musical, Hytner said today: “It’s going to be an extremely interesting addition to a London musical theatre repertoire that is going to be rigorous this year”, with transfers to the West End of Broadway blockbusters including Wicked, Spamalot and Movin’ Out already announced, as well as Michael Grandage’s revival of Evita.

In the Cottesloe

In the Cottesloe, the new programming begins with The Overwhelming, presented in association with Out of Joint whose artistic director Max Stafford-Clark directs, which opens on 17 May 2006 (previews from 9 May). Seizing the opportunity to research a book, Jack Exley uproots his family from Illinois to Rwanda in early 1994. The world premiere production marks the UK debut for American dramatist JT Rogers.

Also in the Cottesloe (dates tbc) Irish playwright Conor McPherson – whose plays, including The Weir, Dublin Carol and Shining City, have often found a London home at the Royal Court – will make his NT debut with his latest The Seafarer, which he’ll also direct.

Further ahead & touring

Although no dates or auditoria have yet been announced, the NT did also reveal details for two more projects currently in development. Marianne Elliott (Pillars of the Community) will direct Nick Stafford’s adaptation of another children’s book, Michael Morpugo’s War Horse, which views the First World War through the eyes of a horse. Still more intriguing, Damon Albarn – lead singer and songwriter for Brit-pop band Blur, will break into musical theatre with an as-yet unnamed piece set in Ladbroke Grove, west London, with a book by Roy Williams (Fallout, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads.

Hytner described Albarn as “unquestionably one of the most fertile an inventive musicians” working today. The new musical – which will explore “the great diversity of London life” – is earmarked for 2007. Hytner himself may direct.

In addition to its schedule on the South Bank, the National will tour for 25 weeks in the coming year. The History Boys will embark on another 11-city tour, opening at Birmingham Rep on 31 August 2006. McPherson’s The Seafarer will also hit the road, as will a mobile production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (mounted as a companion to The Life of Galileo) directed by Sean Holmes who directed last autumn’s mobile production of Translations.

- by Terri Paddock