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Old Vic Presents Propeller & Lindsay’s Entertainer

By • West End
UPDATED, Tue 9 May 2006 at 1.40pm: Further details and quotes from today’s press briefing at the Old Vic have now been added to this story.

As previously tipped (See The Goss, 8 May 2006), Shakespeare and classic revivals, including a 50th anniversary production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, will figure heavily in Kevin Spacey’s future programming at the Old Vic, which the Hollywood actor-turned-artistic director announced at a press briefing this morning at the South Bank landmark.

In the 2006/7 season, following Howard Davies’ revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, starring Spacey, Edward Hall will direct Propeller, his multi award-winning all-male Shakespeare ensemble, in The Taming of the Shrew (staged first in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the RSC’s year-long Complete Works Festival) and Twelfth Night, after which Robert Lindsay (pictured) will play Archie Rice in Sean Holmes’ new production of The Entertainer (which Lindsay performed earlier this year as part of the Royal Court’s “50 Years, 50 Readings” anniversary celebrations).

Further ahead, Stephen Fry will pen a fresh version of Christmas pantomime Cinderella, Matthew Warchus will revive Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy The Norman Conquests (which hasn’t been seen in London since its 1974 premiere, starring Tom Courtenay), Spacey and his Richard II director Trevor Nunn will reunite, and there will be premieres of new plays by Frank McGuinness and Malcolm McKay.

Expanding the artistic team

Spacey also announced today that he is bolstering his team by appointing three associate directors – Edward Hall, Matthew Warchus (who in 2002, prior to Spacey’s arrival, was tipped to become artistic director of the Old Vic himself) and Anthony Page (whose recent West End productions include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Night of the Iguana) - to provide “creative counsel to the theatre company and contribute to its artistic development”. Spacey described the three directors as “talented and experienced associates”, each of whom will “bring very special qualities and great theatrical wisdom”. Spacey said, as it learns and grows, the Old Vic will continue to bring on other directors and actors as associates because “we seek as much advice as we can from people whose wisdom we believe in.”

Commenting overall on the plans laid out today, Spacey said: “In the Old Vic tradition of celebrating great acting, big plays and a sense of event, we’re very proud of the line-up we’ve assembled for our third season and beyond. It will be an enormous pleasure for audiences to see Robert Lindsay as Archie Rice in The Entertainer, a part he was surely born to play. A household name on television, he appears all too rarely on stage. Having done Long Day’s Journey into Night, I’ve always wanted to play Jim in Moon, and I feel blessed to be reunited with my good friend Howard Davies.

“And we’re bringing more Shakespeare to the Old Vic. Edward Hall shares our ambition to present Shakespeare with clarity and invention, and we believe his approach to staging these plays will appeal to the widest possible audience. After the success of Aladdin, I’m thrilled that Stephen Fry is writing a new panto for the Old Vic – he’s an exceptional talent, a very funny man, and I think theatregoers of all ages are in for a real treat.”

2006/7 season

As first announced last September (See News, 8 Sep 2006), the autumn will kick off with Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, with full dates now confirmed from 26 September to 23 December 2006 (previews from 15 September). The production reunites Spacey with director Howard Davies, whose 1998 Almeida production of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh brought Spacey to the Old Vic stage for the first time when it transferred to the West End and won him a clutch of Best Actor awards. Co-produced by Elliot Martin, Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer, the new production is designed by Bob Crowley with lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Christopher Shutt and music by Dominic Muldowney.

After a Christmas break, Edward Hall’s productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night will open the New Year, running in repertoire from 17 January to 17 February 2007 (previews from 5 January). Founded in 1997 at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, where Hall is also an associate, Propeller’s previous award-winning productions have included The Winter’s Tale, Henry V, The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rose Rage (a two-part adaptation of the Henry V trilogy). After originating at Newbury, Propeller’s plays have all toured extensively, while the last two also transferred to the West End.

The new Propeller offerings are both directed by Hall, designed by Michael Pavelka and co-produced with the Watermill. The Taming of the Shrew will open in Newbury (running from 14 September to 28 October 2006) before being seen at the RSC’s Complete Works (2 to 11 November) and then transferring to the Old Vic. Twelfth Night will begin at the Old Vic. After their London seasons, both comedies will tour nationally and internationally.

Sean Holmes’ production of Osborne’s 1957 play The Entertainer will run for three months from late February 2007 (exact dates tbc). Robert Lindsay plays struggling music hall comedian Archie Rice, a part immortalised by Laurence Olivier. Best known for his TV appearances in the likes of Citizen Smith, My Family and Jericho, Lindsay’s stage credits include Me and My Girl, Oliver!, Cyrano de Bergarac, Richard III and Power (his last London stage appearance, at the National in 2003). Lindsay is joined in the cast of The Entertainer by Pam Ferris (Notes of Falling Leaves, Closing Time, The Queen and I), who will play his cuckolded wife.

Speaking at today’s event, Lindsay said he was looking forward to returning to theatre “where my real heart is”. He explained that “I really got hooked” on The Entertainer after doing the Royal Court reading in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in January, but was dismayed to learn that Kevin Spacey had the rights, assuming that Spacey himself would want to play the role. A few weeks later, Lindsay “got tingles” when Spacey called and offered him the job. “I feel I’ve reached a point when I’m really able to play the man (Archie Rice),” Lindsay said.

Further ahead

Dates have not yet been set for Matthew Warchus’ revival of Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests. The trilogy - played out in three different areas of the house: Table Manners in the dining room, Living Together in the living room and Round and Round in the Garden in the garden – may come after The Entertainer at the end of the third season or at some point in the fourth. Stephen Fry’s new version of Cinderella - which, according to producer David Liddiment, has him “buzzing with ideas” - will premiere for the Christmas 2007 season. And, also for the fourth season, Kevin Spacey (as an actor) and director Trevor Nunn are currently considering a number of plays – both Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare for their second collaboration, a follow-up to last year’s award-winning Richard II, in which Spacey made his UK Shakespearean debut.

The two new plays which Spacey has committed to producing have both emerged from the theatre’s Old Vic New Voices development programme. Malcolm McKay’s Bette and Joan, set on the sound stage of the 1964 film Hush, Hush… Sweet Charlotte, explores the relationships between Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Londoners (a working title) is based on Henry Mayhew’s Victorian text London Labour and the London Poor. It’s written by Frank McGuinness based on a song-led concept (music by Dominic Muldowney) devised by Di Trevis, who will also direct. According to Spacey, the play “will be set in the Old Vic and it will evoke the Old Vic’s music hall past” through a “rousing and revelatory story” about the local people who “begged, borrowed, stole… and sang” there during Victorian times.

Also as part of the New Voices programme, the third annual, star-studded fundraising event The 24 Hour Plays - in which established writers, actors and directors aim to create six new plays within 24 hours – will take place 8 October 2006. The Starbucks-sponsored mirror event for up-and-coming artists, aged 25 and under, will be held on 5 November 2006. Last year, the latter attracted 1,500 applicants – the Old Vic is hoping to double that number this year.

- by Terri Paddock


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