As previously tipped (See The Goss, 2 Jul 2007), the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket, traditionally a commercial receiving house, will launch a season of new productions under its own flag. Under the direction of former Almeida joint artistic director Jonathan Kent, the new venture’s inaugural season – running from 25 September 2007 to 1 November 2008 - comprises the world premiere of Boublil and Schonberg’s latest musical Marguerite as well as revivals of Edward Bond’s The Sea and William Wycherley’s Restoration comedy The Country Wife.

Amongst the leading British actors already lined up to join the new Theatre Royal Haymarket Company are Eileen Atkins, Toby Stephens, Patricia Hodge, David Haig, Ruthie Henshall, Marcia Warren, Fiona Glascott and Liz Crowther, several of whom attended a season launch event held at the theatre today (9 July 2007). All three productions will be directed by Kent, and designed by his long-term Almeida collaborators Paul Brown (set) and Mark Henderson (lighting).

Sex & social satire

Wycherley’s 1675 classic The Country Wife launches the season, running from 9 October 2007 (previews from 27 September) to 12 January 2008. Described by Kent at today’s event as having the “distinction of being a Restoration comedy that is actually very funny”, the play revolves around notorious man-about-town Horner who schemes to seduce the women of London society en masse by spreading a rumour that he’s impotent. “It’s a play about sex,” said Kent, “and the knots we all tie ourselves into when it comes to sex.”

Toby Stephens, currently playing an adulterer in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal at the Donmar Warehouse, stars as Horner, in a 14-strong cast that also features Liz Crowther (as Mrs Squeamish), Fiona Glascott (Margery Pinchwife), David Haig (Pinchwife) and Patricia Hodge (Lady Fidget).

Continuing the comic theme, Edward Bond’s “black and riotous” modern classic The Sea, runs from 23 January (previews from 17 January) to 19 April 2008. According to Kent, Bond ranks as “one of the most important and interesting voices in British theatre” of the last century and yet one who, over the past 20 years, has been “bewilderingly” sidelined.

The Sea is set in 1907 in a small East Anglian seaside village where a wild storm sets off a series of events that changes the lives of all the residents. Bond’s play premiered at the Royal Court in 1973 and has only had one major London revival since, at the National Theatre in 1991. At the TRH, Eileen Atkins stars as Mrs Rafi, the role played by Corale Brown and Judi Dench at the Court and NT respectively. David Haig stays on to play Hatch, with Marcia Warren as Jessica Tilehouse.

A soaring musical premiere

Marguerite concludes the new season. While the two plays run for three months apiece, the “high romantic, soaring” musical will have a longer, five-month engagement, receiving its world premiere on 20 May (previews from 6 May) and continuing until 1 November 2008. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1848 novel La Dame aux Camellias, Marguerite relocates the action to Paris during World War II. Marguerite is the mistress of a high-ranking German officer, Armand a young musician who falls obsessively in love with her.

Marguerite has music by Oscar-winning film composer Michel Legrand, a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Jonathan Kent, and English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer from the original French lyrics by Boublil, with orchestrations and arrangements by Legrand and Seann Alderking.

Boublil and Schonberg are best known for their blockbusters Les Miserables (on which they also collaborated with Kretzmer) and Miss Saigon. Their most recent musical, the Irish-inspired The Pirate Queen, closed last month on Broadway after two months. Ruthie Henshall – whose many West End and Broadway credits include Chicago, The Woman in White, Crazy for You, Peggy Sue Got Married and Les Miserables - takes the title role.

No bogus theme

Jonathan Kent explained today that there is no “bogus” theme to the TRH season, “they’re simply three plays I always wanted to do … These are big plays, plays of ambition”. He added that it felt “great to be back” programming for a theatre four years after leaving the Almeida, where he and Ian McDiarmid acted as joint artistic directors for 12 years.

The TRH Company is the brainchild of the theatre’s chairman Arnold Crook, who brought Kent on to programme the inaugural season. Speaking today, Crook said it was imperative for the historic, Grade I-listed building – as well as the rest of the commercial West End – change in the face of increasing pressure from subsidised theatre as well as other entertainment options. “In creating this new season, we hope that it will be exciting for everyone.” He’s hoping that, if successful with its first three productions, the Grade I-listed theatre will continue in-house programming beyond next November.

Kent said he was delighted to be part of the inaugural season and the “imaginative and brave and important new venture in the West End … a season of plays, produced by the theatre itself under the aegis of an artistic directed with a single aesthetic vision”. While the director and producer have not ruled out future lives for the three shows beyond the Haymarket, Kent stressed that “the purpose is to do a season … this is not a seedbed”.

To coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Haymarket’s Masterclass programme, the company is also creating a new apprentice training scheme for actors, directors and designers to work within the company for the length of the entire season.

- by Terri Paddock