Martin Guerre will undergo yet another makeover when it opens next month at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre, as the latest in the theatre’s line of actor-musician ensemble pieces. Boublil and Schönberg’s musical will have a limited run from 16 July (previews from 11 July) to 1 September 2007 at the 220-seat West Berkshire playhouse.

Directed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, with musical arrangements by the Tony Award winner Sarah Travis, the Watermill’s new staging is the latest in a long line of modifications to Martin Guerre, which has had several incarnations since its original production in July 1996 at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Originally presented in the West End by Cameron Mackintosh, and directed by Declan Donnellan, the musical initially opened to poor reviews, prompting the writing partnership behind Miss Saigon and Les Miserables to drastically revise the material before reopening, after a three-week hiatus, in November 1996 to more favourable notices and a run of more than 700 performances. It went on to win the 1997 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The show underwent further revisions prior to a UK tour in December 1998, when several new songs were added.

In the predominantly sung-through musical, young French peasant Martin Guerre reluctantly marries Bertrande de Rols, the daughter of a well-off family. After failing to consummate his marriage, Guerre is mercilessly taunted about his masculinity and abruptly disappears to war. Five years later, a man claiming to be Martin Guerre returns. His wife is overjoyed. At first the villagers accept him, but soon doubts begin to arise over the true identity of the returning Guerre.

The French folk story has also been adapted for the screen twice: as the 1982 French film Le Retour de Martin Guerre starring Gerard Depardieu and Hollywood’s 1993 American Civil War-set offering Sommersby led by Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.

Best known as a choreographer, Craig Revel Horwood’s West End credits include Spend, Spend, Spend and >My One and Only, both of which garnered him Olivier nominations, and the original production of Martin Guerre, on which he assisted Bob Avian. He also choreographed last year’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? on TV. His directing credits include Beautiful and Damned, South Pacific and, at the Watermill last year, Hot Mikado.

Sarah Travis’ previous Watermill credits include the actor-musician productions of Mack and Mabel, Gondoliers (both also in the West End), Fiddler on the Roof, Pinafore Swing and Hot Mikado, She became the first woman to win the Tony Award for Best Orchestration last year for the Broadway transfer of the Watermill’s actor-musician staging of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which also ran in the West End where it won two Awards.

The Martin Guerre cast is led by Andrew Bevis as Martin Guerre, Karen Mann (the original Mrs Lovett in the Watermill Sweeney Todd as Madame de Rols, Kelly O\'Leary (Bertrande) and Ben Goddard (Arnaud du Thil). Completing the twelve-strong company are Esther Biddle (Catherine), Michael Howcroft (Priest/Judge), Ken Orton (Andre), Rosie Simpson, James Traherne (Pierre Guerre), Jez Unwin (Guillaume), Susannah van den Berg and Johnson Willis (Benoit).

Prior to Martin Guerre, the Watermill Theatre will present Propeller Theatre’s two Shakespearean co-productions with the Old Vic – The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night – which were seen at the London venue earlier this year.

- by Jake Brunger