Less than 18 months after a financial crisis caused a year-long halt to its programming (See News, 19 Nov 2003), English Touring Theatre has bounced back and announced one of its most ambitious seasons since being founded in 1993. Its revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 existential comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, launches a two-month tour on 20 May 2005 and will be followed by new productions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (this autumn) and Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (next spring).

Stoppard’s play turns the spotlight onto the apparently inconsequential experiences of the two minor courtiers in Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are by turn comic, tragic and philosophical as they try to make sense of the pointless and arbitrary nature of their own existence.

Premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe before being acquired by the National Theatre, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was Stoppard’s first major success. His subsequent plays have included Jumpers, Travesties, Night and Day, The Real Thing, Hapgood, Arcadia and the epic Coast of Utopia trilogy. Following the death of American dramatist Arthur Miller in February, Stoppard has just been voted the world’s “Greatest Living Playwright” by Whatsonstage.com theatregoers (See Big Debate).

The new production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, directed by ETT artistic director Stephen Unwin and designed by Michael Vale, stars Nick Rowe and James Wallace in the respective title roles. Interestingly, Rowe and Wallace have previously played their opposing characters in the 1995 Almeida production of Hamlet, starring Ralph Fiennes, both at London’s Hackney Empire and on Broadway.

The Rosencrantz cast also includes: James Faulkner, Grant Gillespie, Edmund (son of Ben) Kingsley, Charlie Roe and Ed Browning. The production opens on 20 May 2005 at the Oxford Playhouse before continuing to Guildford, Malvern, Lowry, Coventry, Greenwich, Bristol, Richmond and Cambridge, where it concludes on 23 July. Full dates have not yet been announced for the subsequent tours.

In other ETT news, leading actors Joanna Lumley, Diana Quick, Alan Rickman, Simon Russell Beale and Timothy West have joined Ian McKellen to become patrons of the company, and Nic Lloyd has been appointed its new chairman.

Since its foundation, ETT has presented more than 30 productions, several of which have garnered awards and transferred to the West End, as well as touring countrywide. Recent ETT award winners have included the Timothy West-headed King Lear, Ghosts, starring Diana Quick, and the world premiere of Peter Gill's The York Realist, with Richard Coyle and Lloyd Owen.

- by Terri Paddock