London’s King’s Head Theatre celebrated the launch of its new 2008 season yesterday (4 March 2008). After more than a decade as a receiving house, the King’s Head, set in a historic 19th-century pub in Islington, is relaunching itself as a producing theatre with a new season of seven shows including four world premiere musicals and three plays (See News, 28 Feb 2008). The theatre’s artistic director, Stephanie Sinclaire, welcomed industry guests to a lunch reception and a preview performance of extracts from some of the seasons’ upcoming shows.

Casting for the first work in the season, a new musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter entitled The Black and White Ball, was also announced. The company comprises: Chris Ellis Stanton (The Boy Friend), Mark McGee (Taboo, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Desperately Seeking Susan), Kaisa Hammarlund (Cabaret, Sunday in the Park with George, Take Flight), Katherine Kingsley (Anything Goes), Liza Pulman (Fascinating Aida) and Charles Shirvell (Chicago.

Commissioned by the Cole Porter estate, the musical, which has a book by Warner Brown, is built around existing Porter ditties including “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, “After You, Who?”, “All of You” and “Please Don’t Make Me Be Good”. It’s set in 1960s New York, where Leah is trying to solve the mystery of the murder of her stepfather, Jay St John, 20 years ago. Matthew White directs, with musical supervision and orchestration by Larry Blank. The Black and White Ball runs from 8 April to 4 May 2008 (previews from 25 March).

The season then continues with: Ian McFarlane’s musical Betwixt (6 May to 22 June); Lloyd Evans’ tennis comedy Grand Slam (24 June to 27 July); The Shadow Master, artistic director Sinclaire’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s original play Dear Brutus (29 July to 7 September); American David Gow’s two-hander Cherry Docs (9 September to 19 October); and the premiere of the late Vivian Ellis’ 1950s musical Godiva (9 December to 25 January).

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At yesterday’s event, Jon Robyns performed extracts from Betwixt and Kim Criswell and Peter Land performed from Godiva. Casting for those and other productions in the season has not yet been announced. For Photos, our Whatsonstage.com photographer Dan Wooller was also on hand, along with other guests including actresses Kate Fahy, Celia Imrie and Maureen Lipman.

The theatre, situated in Islington’s historic 19th-century pub, was founded in 1970 by Dan Crawford, who died two-and-a-half years ago (See News, 14 Jul 2005). It was the first dinner theatre in the UK and the original London pub theatre, which kickstarted the Fringe scene. Over the years, the King’s Head has transferred 37 shows to the West End, Broadway, national tours and film. The theatre is now under the artistic directorship of Stephanie Sinclaire, Crawford’s widow, who is running it with producer Steven M Levy and associate producer Fleur Brooklin Smith.

As part of the relaunch, the theatre has also undergone a venue refurbishment including an increased seating capacity of 140 (previously 112) on new padded bench seating, new lighting equipment and new men’s bathroom facilities. The new season and refurbishment has been funded by a combination of charitable donations, sponsorship, and a new consortium commercial investment scheme that allows investors to spread their finances across a range of productions.

- by Kate Jackson