It’s been a widely circulated secret for months and was as much as confirmed by the BBC last week (See News, 4 Sep 2007) but today – a day after the Donmar Warehouse announced that it will present Jude Law in a Hamlet directed by Kenneth Branagh in the West End (See News, 10 Sep 2007) – the Royal Shakespeare Company at last officially announced that Doctor Who star David Tennant (pictured) will return to the company next year to tackle the same title role.

The RSC production, directed by chief associate Gregory Doran and also starring Patrick Stewart as Claudius, will open on 5 August 2008 (previews from 24 July) in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Courtyard Theatre, where it will continue until 15 November. From 8 October (previews from 2 October), it will be joined in rep by Doran’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, the RSC’s first staging of the play in more than 12 years, with Tennant playing the lovelorn Berowne.

After Stratford, Hamlet - and possibly Love’s Labour’s Lost - will transfer immediately to London for a limited six to eight weeks at a West End venue still to be confirmed. It will finish in January 2009, a good five months before Law’s offering, which opens at Wyndham’s Theatre on 3 June 2009.

Speaking at a press briefing held in London today, Doran said he had admired Tennant since seeing him as Touchstone in Steven Pimlott’s 1996/7 production of As You Like It, when he recognised him as “a brilliant wordsmith and a brilliant young classical actor”. He was inspired to approach Tennant about Hamlet after watching him unwittingly pick up a skull during the family heritage TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? in September 2006.

While now best known to TV fans for his adventures in Doctor Who, from which he’ll take a year off to fulfil his RSC commitments, Tennant launched his career on stage in his native Scotland. Early in his career, he spent two seasons with the RSC, where his other roles included Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors and Jack in Peter Whelan’s The Herbal Bed. RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said today that, having already spent effectively three years with the RSC, it was “a very natural thing for him (Tennant) to come back and graduate to that toughest of roles”.

Hamlet and Love’s Labour’s will be cross-cast from the same ensemble performing a third Doran production, a revival of his acclaimed 2005 staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which precedes the other two, opening on 15 May 2008 (previews from 9 May).

Two more productions will complete the new 2008 schedule in Stratford’s Courtyard Theatre: The Merchant of Venice (opening 10 April, previews from 3 April), directed by frequent Globe director Tim Carroll in his RSC debut; and The Taming of the Shrew (opening 1 May, previews from 24 April), directed by Conall Morrison. They will be performed by the same company.

In addition to the previously announced London runs for Roy WilliamsDays of Significance, Leo Butler’s I’ll Be the Devil and an as-yet unnamed piece by Anthony Neilson (See News, 28 Jun 2007), Boyd also announced today that the RSC will premiere two more new plays in London in 2008, although exact dates and venues have yet to be announced. Adriano Shaplin’s The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes, a debate on god and science, and Marina Carr’s two-hander response to King Lear, The Cordelia Dream, will both have four-week seasons next autumn/winter.

Boyd further revealed more design elements for the London transfer of his mammoth two-and-a-half year Histories project, in which the same ensemble of actors performs all 264 roles in the full eight-play cycle (See News, 28 Jun 2007). From March/April 2008, the cycle will have an eight-week season at Camden’s Roundhouse, which is being specially refitted to improve acoustics and enhance intimacy.

Because of the resources invested in the Histories engagement and this November’s transfer of the Ian McKellen-headed productions of King Lear and The Seagull to the Really Useful-owned New London Theatre (See News, 30 May 2007), the RSC will not be taking up its annual spring/summer West End residence at one of Cameron Mackintosh theatres, part of a five-year agreement struck two years ago with the impresario (See News, 5 Jun 2005). David Tennant’s transfer of Hamlet is, however, expected to land in one of Mackintosh’s playhouses for Christmas 2008.

- by Terri Paddock