Two-and-a-half years later than originally planned, and after six years of development, Sir Peter Hall’s £11 million Rose of Kingston, modelled on Elizabethan London’s Rose Theatre, will officially open in the new year (See News, 26 Jul 2006). Chekhov’s 1899 classic Uncle Vanya, directed by Hall for English Touring Theatre, will inaugurate the newly completed Rose on 16 January 2008 ahead of a national tour.

The main Kingston auditorium is housed within a modern building, designed by architects Michael Holden Associates, but follows the ground plan of the Rose, which was built in 1587 and premiered many of Shakespeare’s early plays. Like the original, the 1,100-capacity Rose of Kingston comprises a promontory stage surrounded by three tiers of seating and a pit for audience ‘groundlings’.

In December 2004, Hall’s production of As You Like It had a brief “In the Raw” season at the Rose, performed in the unfinished shell of the building and featuring gala evenings hosted by Judi Dench in an effort to raise more money for its completion (See News, 17 Sep 2004). A team of leading theatre practitioners - including designer Alison Chitty, lighting designer Peter Mumford and sound designer Paul Groothuis - worked with Hall to plan the internal fit-out.

Uncle Vanya runs at the Rose until 9 February 2008. The inaugural season then continues with visiting productions including the Warren Mitchell-led play Visiting Mr Green, Blonde Bombshells of 1943, Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine and Northern Broadsides’ staging of Romeo and Juliet.

The Rose is still working to reach its fundraising target of £600,000 to cover programming and operational costs beyond the initial season. This will include fulfilling Hall’s vision of the theatre operating as a producing house with its own 20-strong ensemble company performing a repertoire of both classical and contemporary work from September 2008.

The opening season will act as a litmus test for the company to learn how the new theatre space works in practice. In addition, Sir Peter said, “It is our hope that with our completed theatre and this exploratory programme, we can encourage further financial support for this exciting new venue. This theatre will be the cultural heart of Kingston, it will bring significantly more people to the borough, and it will provide unique opportunities to enthuse the next generation of theatre audiences and practitioners.”

Peter Hall (pictured at the Rose of Kingston) was the first director of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre’s South Bank complex. In 1977, he was knighted for services to theatre and, in 1999, was presented with an Olivier for Lifetime Achievement.

Uncle Vanya, in a translation by Stephen Mulrine, stars Nicholas Le Prevost (whose recent credits include The Wild Duck, The Philadelphia Story and My Fair Lady)as Vanya, Neil Pearson (Old Times, Cloaca, Closer on stage; Drop the Dead Donkey and Bridget Jones on screen) as Astrov, Ronald Pickup (Proof, Look Back in Anger, Amy’s View) as Serebryakov, and Michelle Dockery (who reprises her role as Eliza Doolittle in Hall’s revival of Pygmalion at the Old Vic next summer – See News, 2 Nov 2007) as Yelena.

Also in the cast are Faith Brook, Loo Brealey, David Ganly and Antonia Pemberton. The production is designed by Alison Chitty, with lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Gregory Clarke.

Uncle Vanya is part of ETT’s final season under the directorship of Stephen Unwin, who founded the company and steps down after 15 years as artistic director. Rachel Tackley takes over, as artistic director as well as chief executive, next spring (See News, 29 Jun 2007). Following Kingston, Uncle Vanya visits Bath, Cambridge, Brighton, York, Guildford, Newcastle, Milton Keynes and Malvern.

- by Terri Paddock