The play, first seen as part of the Remembrance Day Festival at the Malvern Theatre last autumn, is inspired by the true wartime history of the Osiris Players, a small group of women who came together to form an all-female troupe to take the plays of Shakespeare around a culture-starved country. While the men are fighting Hitler and the bombs are blitzing London, these hopelessly mismatched individuals from entirely different social backgrounds set off around the country in a battered 1920s Rolls Royce on their cultural mission.
Nunn, who until March last year was artistic director of the National Theatre, has since then overseen the transfer of his South Bank production of Anything Goes to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (where it continues to run and is currently booking to 28 August), staged Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea that re-opened the refurbished Almeida Theatre and directed Skellig at the Young Vic. He has frequently worked with Stubbs - who is currently playing Gertrude in Hamlet - including a 1999 National Theatre revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal in the Lyttelton, a 2001 National Theatre production of Vanbrugh's The Relapse in the Olivier Theatre, as well as a 1996 film version of Twelfth Night that also starred Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham-Carter.
Prior to appearing in Hamlet, Stubbs' most recent West End appearance was in Mum's the Word that ran at the Albery Theatre from March to June last year. Amongst her co-stars in that production was Patsy Palmer, who now appears in We Happy Few fresh from touring in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's Tell Me on a Sunday. Palmer is still best known for playing Bianca in television's EastEnders for five years. She was also seen earlier this year in the BBC TV adaptation of Trollope's He Knew He Was Right.
Juliet Stevenson makes a rare return to the stage, though she was once a regular at the RSC where her roles included Miss Chasen in Nunn's production of Once In a Lifetime, Madame de Tourvel in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Rosalind in As You Like It. Other stage roles include the original London cast of Death and the Maiden at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs and subsequently the Duke of York's, and opposite John Malkovich in Burn This. More recently, she has concentrated on film and television work in such features as Mona Lisa Smile and television's Hear The Silence, about the MMR vaccine earlier this year. She has also starred in Truly Madly Deeply and Bend It Like Beckham, and her next film, Being Julia, with Annette Benning, will be released later this year.
Marcia Warren's recent West End credits include Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy that transferred to the Gielgud from the National's Cottesloe, and Arsenic and Old Lace. Kate O'Mara, best known for starring as Joan Collins' sister in television's Dynasty, tours regularly in theatre, most recently in Oscar Wilde's rarely seen The Marquise. The cast is completed by Caroline Blakiston, Paul Bentley, Rosemary McHale, Adam Davy, Cat Simmons and Emma Darwall-Smith.
We Happy Few also reunites the creative team of director Nunn with designer John Napier and lighting designer David Hersey who previously collaborated on such productions as Nicholas Nickleby, Cats and Les Miserables. It is produced by Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt, who most recently brought the RSC's All's Well That Ends Well with Judi Dench, also to the West End's Gielgud Theatre.
- by Mark Shenton