Highlights of the new autumn/winter season include stage turns for British screen actors Tom Courtenay and Christopher Eccleston, one world premiere, a celebration of the poet Philip Larkin, a revival of cult off-Broadway musical classic Little Shop of Horrors and a rare opportunity to see both Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Hamlet-inspired Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
The last - Tom Stoppard's 1966 comedy, in which the two minor characters from Hamlet take centre stage to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the tale of corruption, madness and murder – opens the season. Directed by Gemma Bodinetz, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead runs from 14 September to 19 October 2002.
It's followed by Brown's own production of Hamlet, starring Eccleston in his first professional Shakespeare stage role. Born in Salford in 1964, Eccleston has made his name with his many gritty roles on film and television, which have included David in Shallow Grave, the title role in Jude, the Duke of Norfolk in Elizabeth and, on the small screen, Sergeant Bilborough in Cracker and Nicky in Our Friends in the North. He's joined in Hamlet - playing from 25 October to 30 November 2002 - by Brigit Forsyth (as Gertrude), Kevin McMonagle (Polonius), Malcolm Scates (Claudius), Neil McKinven (Horatio) and Maxine Peake (Ophelia).
The Hamlet couplet is followed by two more twinned dramas, both exploring the life and work of poet Philip Larkin. The first is Ben Brown's Larkin with Women, which won the 2000 Barclays/TMA Award for Best New Play after it premiered at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre. This new WYP production, running from 27 September to 26 October 2002, is directed by Brian Brady.
It's complemented by the world premiere of Pretending to Be Me, written and performed by Tom Courtenay (pictured) and playing 22 November to 21 December 2002. The actor's first piece of writing for the stage, the solo show is an affectionate tribute to Larkin in which Courtenay plays the poet while interspersing his own words with those of Larkin's poetry. The piece reunites Courtenay and director Ian Brown who last worked together on the award-winning one-man show Moscow Stations.
The Playhouse's autumn/winter season ends with a revival of the gleefully gruesome 1982 cult favourite, Little Shop of Horrors, playing from 7 December 2002 to 8 February 2003. Part musical and part spoof science fiction, the show tells the story of a nerdy florist who makes a Faustian pact with a giant man-eating plant. It features a book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken.
- by Terri Paddock