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Holmes Brings Comedians, Panto, Teens to Lyric

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Sean Holmes today announced his first season as artistic director of west London’s Lyric Hammersmith. The main-house programme – which includes revivals of Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians and Chekhov’s Three Sisters, the world premiere of a new play by British playwright Simon Stephens and the return of traditional pantomime – signals a distinct change of direction for the theatre, which Holmes has taken over after three years’ under David Farr’s leadership.

In another significant change, as part of an initial 18-month experiment, the Lyric’s 112-seat studio will cease to be a receiving house for visiting companies and will instead become a home for teenagers to develop, present and showcase new theatre work under the direction of the Lyric Artistic Associates.

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Holmes said the new season was a case of “evolution not revolution” and that, in compiling the programme, he was inspired by the history of the theatre and by the size and aesthetics of the proscenium arch stage and auditorium.

“It’s such a beautiful theatre and it’s also a big theatre”, said Holmes. “It\'s 556 seats: that’s a 150 bigger than the Court, 300 bigger that the Donmar. It’s a very specific space, and it feels that we need work that’s a big meal. That was my instinct, that each show should have richness and breadth about it. And I wanted a programme that’s a bit broader, messier, and more eclectic than had been the case before.”

He continued: “The various strands were: writing new plays, the revival of classics, the continuation of relationships with companies who are associated with the Lyric and inspiring interesting collaborations between various artists who might end up doing more work together. That is very exciting.”

Holmes’ season opens in the autumn with the world premiere of Simon StephensPunk Rock, which draws on Stephens’ own experience as a teacher to paint a portrait of seven young people with their sense of dislocation and simmering violence. A Lyric artistic associate, Stephens’ other plays – seen at the National, Royal Court and elsewhere - include Harper Regan, Motortown, Pornography, Herons and On the Shore of the Wide World, which was helmed by Royal Exchange joint artistic director Sarah Frankcom, who will also direct the new play. Punk Rock is co-produced by the Royal Exchange and will transfer to the Manchester venue following its premiere at the Lyric, where it runs from 8 to 26 September 2009 (previews from 3 September).

It’s followed, from 14 October to 14 November 2009 (previews from 7 October) by Comedians, which marks Holmes’ Lyric directorial debut as artistic director. In Trevor Griffiths’ 1975 play, six wannabe comedians attend an evening class at a school in Manchester in preparation for a performance in front of London agent. Faded music hall star acts Eddie Waters acts as their tutor, in an age when comedians wore dicky bows and political correctness was decades away.

The premiere production, seen in London at the National Theatre, starred Jimmy Jewel as Eddie and Jonathan Pryce as aspirant Gethin Price. Pryce later reprised his role in the show’s Broadway transfer. There hasn’t been a major London production of Comedians in nearly 20 years, though Holmes did revive in a 2001 tour that starred Ron Moody as Eddie and David Tennant as Gethin.

In Holmes’ new staging, Matthew Kelly will play Eddie - continuing his “annus mirabilis” of stage roles, and coming straight from a summer at Shakespeare’s Globe (See News, 2 Jun 2009), where, coincidentally, Griffiths’ latest play, A New World, premieres in September – alongside David Dawson, who played Frank Rice in Holmes’ 2007 Old Vic revival of The Entertainer, as Gethin. TV star Mark Benton (Northern Lights, The Street, Murphy’s Law) plays Ged Murray.

Pantomime is back at the Lyric over Christmas, with Jack and the Beanstalk, running from 30 November 2009 (previews from 21 November) to 3 January 2010. While it is traditional panto – and, according to Holmes, “much more inclusive, welcoming and broad in its appeal” than more recent festive offerings at the Lyric – there is a twist. The new version is written by not one or two or three but four eclectic co-writers: playwright Richard Bean and comedy writers Jocelyn Jee Esien, Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. Steve Marmion directs.

In the new year, from 25 January to 20 February 2010 (previews from 15 January), Sean Holmes reunites with Filter theatre company, with whom he’s previously collaborated on acclaimed reinventions of Twelfth Night and Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, to tackle Chekhov’s Three Sisters. While Holmes promises that the new piece will be more faithful to the original play, with less “chopping and changing” of the order, the classic 1901 drama – centring on siblings Masha, Olga and Irina who are stuck in a Russian army outpost, dreaming about freedom, romance and Moscow – will be staged in an empty theatre in order to “try to strip back Chekhov”.

The final offering in Holmes’ inaugural season will be a collaboration between League of Gentlemen “master of the macabre” co-writer Jeremy Dyson and mind-reader Derren Brown’s director and co-creator Andy Nyman. In the pair’s Ghost Stories, which runs from 1 to 27 March 2009 (previews from 24 February), three men gather to share their chilling tales. Holmes told Whatsonstage.com that Dyson and Nyman’s evening, which will have a later start time of 8.30pm (9pm for the press performance), will involve candles, magic and illusion. “The idea is to genuinely terrify and disturb. That’s very hard to do in the theatre, but if anyone can do it, they can. They’ve got very specific skills as artists.”


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