The Royal Court’s plan for one single company performing two plays – Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Max Frisch’s The Arsonists - in repertory has been thrown slightly out of whack today by the withdrawal of actor Jasper Britton from the second production, currently in rehearsal, due to “personal reasons”.

Britton received critical acclaim when he opened last month, opposite Beneidct Cumberbatch, in artistic director Dominic Cooke’s revival of Rhinoceros (See Review Round-up, 28 Sep 2007). While he will continue to play Jean in that production, he has been replaced by Will Keen as Biedermann in The Arsonists, directed by associate Ramin Gray. That production runs in rep with the first from 6 November (previews from 1 November) until 15 December 2007.

This is the second major production this year that Will Keen has come to the rescue of at short notice – in March, he replaced Iain Glen in the Donmar Warehouse revival of Manuel Puig’s two-hander Kiss of the Spider Woman (See News, 28 Mar 2007).

Keen’s other theatre work includes The Changeling, Five Gold Rings, The Rubenstein Kiss, The Coast of Utopia, Don Juan, Pericles and Tom and Viv at the Almeida. Amongst his screen credits are Elizabeth I, The Impressionists, Into the Void, Murphy’s Law, Monsignor Renard and Martin Chuzzlewit on TV; and Love and Other Disasters and Nine Lives of Thomas Katz on film.

In The Arsonists, fires are becoming something of a problem. But Biedermann (Keen) has it all under control. A respected member of the community with a loving wife and a flourishing business, surely nothing can get to him. The great philanthrope, he is happy to meet his civic duty and give shelter to two new houseguests, and when they start filling the attic with petrol drums, he’ll help them wire the fuse.

The Frisch play is newly translated by Feelgood’s Alistair Beaton. In addition to Cumberbatch, the rest of the ensemble, appearing in both productions, are: Zawe Ashton, Michael Begley, Paul Chahidi, Jacqueline Defferary, David Hinton, Lloyd Hutchinson, Claire Prempeh, Alwyne Taylor and Graham Turner. The Arsonists is designed by Anthony Ward.

Rhinoceros had its Royal Court premiere in a 1960 production directed by Orson Welles and starring Laurence Olivier. The Arsonists (then under the title of The Fire Raisers) premiered at the Court a year later, directed by Lindsay Anderson with Alfred Marks and John Thaw in the cast. The new productions mark the first major UK revivals for both plays.

- by Terri Paddock