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Helen Mirren\'s Phedre Leads NT Classics Charge

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Helen Mirren (pictured) will return to the stage next summer to star in a new National Theatre production of Phaedra, directed by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner. The production, which will co-star Margaret Tyzack, is slated to open in the NT Lyttelton in June 2009.

It will be Mirren’s first stage appearance since winning the Best Actress Oscar for the 2006 film The Queen and her first in six years, having last trod the boards – also at the National – in Howard Davies’ 2003 production of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra.

Mirren takes the title role in Jean Racine’s 1677 classic tragedy, in a version by Ted Hughes, based on a Greek myth about a queen who falls passionately in love with her stepson in her husband’s absence. She follows in the footsteps of other famous Phaedras including Glenda Jackson, Diana Rigg and, most recently at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006, Clare Higgins. Tyzack, just seen at the Donmar this summer in Enid Bagnold’s comedy The Chalk Garden, will play Mirren’s nurse and confidante Oenone.

Classical emphasis

The production – revealed by Hytner today at a press briefing to launch the National Theatre’s 2007-8 Annual Report (See Today’s Other News for report analysis and operational plans) – is part of a major return to the classics for the NT in 2009, after this year’s concentration on newer work across the three auditoria.

Though exact dates have not yet been set, other 2009 NT programme highlights disclosed by Hytner today will include new productions of: Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 polemic Mother Courage and Her Children starring Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner; Shakespeare’s comedy All’s Well That Ends Well, directed by Marianne Elliott; Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century Dido, Queen of Carthage, directed by James Macdonald; Georg Buchner’s 1835 piece about the French Revolution, Danton’s Death, directed by Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage; and JB Priestley’s 1937 “time play” Time and the Conways, directed by Rupert Goold. The last two will mark the NT debuts for both Grandage and Goold.

In addition, Rufus Norris will direct a new production of Death and the King’s Horseman, Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka’s 1976 play, based on a real incident in Nigeria, in which a well-meaning foreign officer attempts to intervene in a ritual suicide that traditionally follows the death of the king.

Key premieres

Amongst the new work so far programmed are new plays by Richard Bean (Harvest, The English Game, Honeymoon Suite) and Matt Charman (A Night at the Dogs, The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder). Bean’s England People, Very Nice - directed by Hytner as part of the 2009 Travelex £10 Season in the NT Olivier – is set in east London’s Bethnal Green over four waves of immigration: French, Irish, Jewish and Bengali.

Matt Charman’s The Observer, about an election official sent to observe a contest in a fictional African country, will premiere in the NT Cottesloe, directed by former NT artistic director Richard Eyre.

- by Terri Paddock


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