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Bennett\'s Latest, Pratchett & Kureishi Premiere at NT

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The National Theatre’s 2009 programme will culminate in November with the world premiere of a new play by Alan Bennett, directed by NT artistic director and Bennett’s long-time collaborator Nicholas Hytner, and a new epic family adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s 2008 children’s novel Nation. Other newly announced highlights, unveiled by Hytner at a press briefing this afternoon (See Today’s Other News for further reporting on business announcements) include Hanif Kureishi’s new adaptation of his own 1995 novel The Black Album.

Bennett’s first – as yet unnamed - new play since The History Boys, which premiered at the NT in 2004 prior to global stage and screen success, imagines a fictional meeting between the poet WH Auden and composer Benjamin Britten, who famously fell out in the 1940s after a long friendship. In the action of the play, Auden is nearly 70 and Britten in his 50s. As such, said Hytner today, “it doesn’t have as high a testosterone level as The History Boys had”, though he promised that the older characters were dramatically as lively as the teenage students of the earlier play.

The Bennett play will open in the NT Lyttelton while Nation, adapted by Mark Ravenhill, will run for a Christmas season in the NT Olivier, continuing in the tradition of the NT’s past successes there with adaptations of three other children’s novels, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Jamila Gavin’s Coram Boy and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. Coram Boy’s Melly Still directs.

Set in an alternate world of the 1870s, Nation centres on a South Seas boy and a “proper” English girl marooned together on an island called Nation after a devastating tsunami. Though he hasn’t been involved day to day, Terry Pratchett, who announced his Alzheimer’s disease in December 2007, is very “supportive and interested” in the project, said Hytner. Fourteen of Pratchett’s popular Discworld novels have previously crossed over to the stage, as have Truckers and his earlier children’s book Only You Can Save Mankind.

In Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album - which opens in the NT Cottesloe in July in a co-production with Tara Arts, directed by Jatinder Verma – young British-Asian Shahid is an anxious young undergraduate who becomes involved in an increasingly fundamentalist Muslim activist group during the Thatcher years in London. Kureishi’s last play at the National, Sleep With Me, was ten years ago; more recently, his When the Night Begins premiered at Hampstead in 2004. The author’s best-known works include The Buddha of Suburbia, London Kills Me and My Beautiful Launderette.

Other 2009 NT programme highlights, as previously announced (See News, 17 Sep 2008), include:

  • In the NT Olivier for the seventh annual Travelex £10 Season, the premiere of Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice (opening 11 February), Rufus Norris’ revival of Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka’s 1976 play Death and the King’s Horseman (opening 8 April); Shakespeare’s comedy All’s Well That Ends Well (late May), directed by Marianne Elliott; and Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 polemic Mother Courage and Her Children (September) starring Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner.

  • In the NT Lyttelton, the return of Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters (opening 31 January); David Hare’s reading of Berlin; Peter Flannery’s adaptation of the Russian film Burnt by the Sun (opening 3 March) starring Rory Kinnear and Ciaran Hinds; JB Priestley’s 1937 “time play” Time and the Conways (opening 5 May), directed by Rupert Goold and starring Francesca Annis; a short run of early 6pm performances for Caryl Churchill’s Three More Sleepless Nights (August); and Hytner’s own production of Phedre (June), with Helen Mirren in the title role alongside Margaret Tyzack and Dominic Cooper. Phedre will also be the first play to be broadcast to venues across the UK as part of the newly announced NT Live initiative (See Today’s Other News).

  • In the NT Cottesloe, the premiere of Samuel Adamson’s Mrs Affleck (opening 27 January); Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century Dido, Queen of Carthage (opening 24 March), directed by James Macdonald; the premiere of Matt Charman’s The Observer (May), about an election official sent to observe a contest in a fictional African country, directed by former NT artistic director Richard Eyre; and Katie Mitchell’s new production of Ferdinand Bruckner’s The Pains of Youth (October).

    Further ahead, the National has rescheduled its upcoming production of Danton’s Death, originally due to be mounted this summer and marking the NT debut of Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage. Grandage had to pull out due to his increased Donmar West End directing commitments caused by the withdrawal of Kenneth Branagh as director of the Jude Law-led Hamlet (See News, 14 Oct 2008), which opens at Wyndham’s in June. Grandage has postponed making his National Theatre debut (See News, 17 Sep 2008).

    Rather than appoint a new director for the revival of Georg Buchner’s 1835 piece about the French Revolution, the National has postponed Danton’s Death until 2010 so that Grandage can still helm it. The move has left a gap in the NT programme, starting in July, but a replacement production is due to be announced within the next few weeks.

    - by Terri Paddock

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