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Bath Opens Rivals & Master Class Pre-West End

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In addition to Blithe Spirit starring Alison Steadman, which has already announced its Shaftesbury Avenue berth for March, Theatre Royal Bath this year launches two more revivals which will be West End bound, albeit with London dates and venues still to be confirmed: Bath-based 18th-century comedy The Rivals, directed by Peter Hall and starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles, and Terence McNally’s Tony Award-winning 1995 play Master Class, starring Stephanie Beacham as opera singer Maria Callas.

Opened in Bath last night (13 September 2010, previews from 7 September) The Rivals is the first production in the Theatre Royal following a two-month, £3.65 million refurbishment. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comedy is set in the fashionable society of the spa town, where a cast of extraordinary characters come to take the waters, show off their finery, indulge in gossip and pursue romance.

Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles, who famously starred together in the British sitcom To the Manor Born, play the verbally misguided Mrs Malaprop and the blinkered Sir Anthony Absolute, respectively. Following Bath, the production visits Richmond, Norwich, Cambridge, Nottingham, Brighton, Malvern and Chichester, where its current schedule concludes on 6 November 2010.

Master Class, which won the Tony for Best Play in 1996, is based on the master classes Callas gave in the early 1970s in New York, after her final stage performances. As the diva works with three young singers just venturing into their professional careers, she reminisces on her past on-stage and off.

Callas, who died in 1977, became as famous for her turbulent private life, as much as her singing – including her passionate love affair with the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, which is captured in another play bound for the West End, Martin Sherman’s Onassis, which stars Robert Lindsay as Onassis and Anna Francolini as Callas and opens at the Novello Theatre next month.

Stephanie Beacham was last on stage in another Theatre Royal Bath production, Peter Hall’s revival of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. Master Class is directed by Jonathan Church, artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre. It launches from the Theatre Royal Plymouth on 2 November before touring in 2010 to Cambridge, Croydon, Chichester and Bath (29 November-4 December) and then reopening in the new year in Guildford on 17 January 2011 and continuing until 26 February to Richmond, Brighton and Cheltenham, with further dates to be announced.

In other major touring news, Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon star in the first national tour in nearly 20 years of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III, which opens this Thursday 16 September 2010 (previews from 4 September) at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke and then continues to Bracknell, Perth, Yeovil, Buxton, Hexham, Middlesborough, Lincoln, Kirkcaldy, Winchester, Southend, Tunbridge Wells, Ipswich and Exeter, where it finishes on 27 November 2010.

In 1786, when George III’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and rumours are running rampant, doctors are called in, Parliament falters and the Prince Regent tries to manoeuvre himself into power. Bennett’s play premiered at the National Theatre in 1991, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Nigel Hawthorne, who recreated his role as the mentally unstable King of England in the 1994 film version (retitled The Madness of King George) opposite Helen Mirren as his loyal wife and queen.

The new production – presented by Blackeyed Theatre Company, Icarus Theatre Collective and Original Theatre Company, in association with South Hill Park, Eastbourne Theatres and Anvil Arts – is directed by Alistair Whatley.


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