Theatre News

Groundhog Day musical premieres in Warchus's first Old Vic season

Other highlights include a new play about education starring Rob Brydon and Ibsen’s ”Master Builder” with Ralph Fiennes

New era: Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic
New era: Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic
(© Manuel Harlan)

Matthew Warchus has unveiled his first season as artistic director of the Old Vic, a year of productions that includes the world premiere next year of Groundhog Day, which sees him reunite with Matilda composer Tim Minchin.

The season opens in September with a new play about education, Future Conditional, starring Rob Brydon, followed by revivals of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape directed by Richard Jones, Ibsen's Master Builder starring Ralph Fiennes and Pinter's The Caretaker with Timothy Spall.

As part of a commitment to broadening the venue's repertoire there will also be a new "dance thriller" version of Jekyll and Hyde, choreographed by Drew McOnie, and a series of one-off "variety nights".

Warchus, who succeeds Kevin Spacey at the helm of the historic venue, said: "After 25 years of freelance directing I unexpectedly find myself running my favourite theatre in the world. Or, if you like, my two favourite theatres since the Old Vic can now transition with relative ease between London's best in-the-round space and the traditional, magnificent end-on auditorium. During my tenure I look forward to playing seasons in both of these great configurations."

He told WhatsOnStage there would inevitably be a change in leadership style compared to his glamorous predecessor.

"As a director, I'm somebody who prefers hiding behind other people," he said. "My face is only apparent in coded form through the productions I do. I hope that the productions and the life of the theatre in general becomes something that shimmers and glows."

Groundhog Day

The long-rumoured stage-to-screen production of Groundhog Day will premiere with a ten-week run opening in June 2016 (exact dates tba).

Matthew Warchus and Tim Minchin at the 2012 WhatsOnStage Awards
Matthew Warchus and Tim Minchin at the 2012 WhatsOnStage Awards
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

In partnership with producers Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin, who have committed to providing an annual fund for new work at the Old Vic, the production will subsequently transfer to Broadway.

Warchus described the project as an "intelligent, mainstream Broadway musical", that has much in common with "American fables" such as The Music Man and Our Town.

Adapted from the hit 1993 film starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, it centres on a TV weatherman who, when sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself caught in a time loop where he is forced to repeat the same day over and over.

Directed by Warchus with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, it features choreography by their Matilda collaborator Peter Darling and a book by Danny Rubin.

"It dawned on me shortly after Matilda that Groundhog Day, a film that I love, is really about time, death, and becoming the best version of yourself. It's sophisticated, meaty stuff in a romantic comedy package, and Tim seemed a good fit for it."

He added that there are roughly a dozen songs, one of which lasts 25 minutes as the weatherman repeats his journey to work time and time again.

New work

Future Conditional, which opens the season on 10 September 2015 (previews from 1 September), marks a big statement of intent from Warchus seeing as it's a piece of new writing, not something the Old Vic has ever been associated with.

Directed by Warchus and starring Rob Brydon as a teacher alongside a cast of 23 young performers, it's billed as a "bracingly topical and boisterously funny" look at British schooling by Tamsin Oglesby (The Mouse and His Child, Really Old, Like 45).

"It's a brilliant play – political, funny, thought-provoking – and has a strong youth aspect, so it represents so many things that I care about," said Warchus.

Next up, from 29 October (previews from 17 October), is a revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape, directed by recent Olivier Award winner Richard Jones (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Annie Get Your Gun).

Telling the story of a labourer who is provoked into a voyage of discovery to find out his true place in the world, the 1922 play was last seen in London in 2012 at Southwark Playhouse.

The Old Vic's Christmas production is an adaptation of Dr Seuss's The Lorax (opens 15 December, previews from 2 December) by David Greig (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), directed by Max Webster.

The story tells of a moustachioed and cantankerous critter who's on a mission to protect the earth from the greedy, tree-chopping, Thneed-knitting businessman known only as The Once-ler.

Stellar revivals

Next year will see two major revivals at the Old Vic. As previously tipped, Ibsen's The Master Builder will be staged in a new adaptation by David Hare, directed by Warchus and starring Ralph Fiennes.

Fiennes will play Halvard Solness, an architect in a small Norwegian town who is deeply affected by a radiant country girl who enters his world. The Master Builder will transfer to Broadway following its Old Vic run, Warchus told WhatsOnStage.

Warchus will also direct a revival of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker starring Timothy Spall (Mr Turner, The King's Speech). The 1960 play sees a disturbed handyman invite an irascible tramp to stay with him at this brother's London flat, leading to a power struggle between the three men.

It's followed by Jekyll and Hyde, a new dance show choreographed by Drew McOnie as part of a new collaboration between the Old Vic and McOnie's company.

The show, which features music by Grant Olding, is billed as "sinister drama" inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Other new productions on the horizon include new commissions from Richard Bean, Caroline Bird, Dennis Kelly, David Nicholls, Diana Nneka Atuona and Mark Watson. There are also rumours of a musical version of Warchus's acclaimed film Pride.

Warchus said: "When Lilian Baylis ran the Old Vic she kept a sign over her desk which read 'Dare, always dare!'. Taking my cue from her, my goal is to programme invigorating seasons which are, by turns, surprising, smart, adventurous, and fun. Come and join in."