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Michael Coveney: Dominic lights up, Vicky opens doors and Fergus takes charge

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Dominic Dromgoole shimmied down the staircase in the foyer at Shakespeare's Globe yesterday - and the steps didn't light up one by one, as they did in the West End for Michael Crawford in Billy, directed by the late lamented Patrick Garland - nor did he burst into song, more's the pity.

Actually, as ever, and rather endearingly, he looked as though he’d just come from mucking out in the stables. And he got stuck in straightaway to the matter in hand: the announcement of work in the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (formerly announced as the Inigo Jones) starting next January with his own production of The Duchess of Malfi.

Did he have any idea who might be playing the Duchess? “I’ve got several ideas, but I’m not telling you!” he joshed, before flagging up Beaumont’s knockabout “meta” comedy The Knight of the Burning Pestle (twice revived by the RSC, once with Timothy Spall as Rafe and then with Rafe Spall, his son, whom he named after Rafe, as Rafe) next February, followed by John Marston’s The Malcontent (revived by the RSC with Antony Sher and also by Jonathan Miller) in April.

“The Globe is a rather bright and happy place, though we’ve been successful with tragedies, and this should kick the place in another direction completely.”

He can say that again. In between Beaumont and Marston lurks not Fletcher or Middleton, but none other than Francesco Cavalli, the 17th century Italian composer in a March collaboration with the Royal Opera House on L’Ormindo, a baroque and roll show about a nymphomaniac queen and her would-be lovers, and a husband she deceives by pretending to be her own ghost; actually, that sounds like a lost Webster play anyway.

The new theatre will operate in the months when the great Globe itself is shut, though Dromgoole conceded that his successor (his contract runs through 2016) might have other ideas. £6.8m of £7.5m required for the Sam Wanamaker has been raised, and the indoor auditorium – with seating for 360, a tall vertical interior and lighting entirely provided by candles (all passed by Health and Safety on Southwark Council) – has been constructed in Newbury.

“Basically, it’s a large lego set at the moment,” said the irrepressible Dom Drom, who said that the Elizabethan and Jacobean repertoire – “Shakespeare’s backing group” – was so large there was no fear of overlap with Gregory Doran’s plans for the same repertoire at the RSC, though he has been comparing notes with Doran. Well, he’s had a chat with him.

And Jacobean theatre “practice” doesn’t stop at recreating the indoor conditions for which the plays (and Shakespeare’s later dramas) were written. The Malcontent was first performed by a company of young boys, so the Globe will instigate a Young Players Company comprising boys and girls aged 12 to 16 years drawn from schools and educational contacts in the area. Dromgoole isn’t thinking posh child actors, more Bugsy Malone.

Business is resumed as normal next week with Roger Allam leading Jeremy Herrin’s new Globe production of The Tempest (ironically, one of the plays most suited to, and indeed written for, the Sam Wanamaker indoors treatment), but audiences will notice significant changes to the foyer, which has been opened up and somehow enlarged to new, airier proportions, which is just as well, as it now serves two theatres.

All change, too, at the Royal Court, where incoming artistic director Vicky Featherstone seems set on a course of doing everything except a straightforward new play on the main stage.

Mind you, she let slip at Friday's press conference (which I couldn’t attend as I was heading north for a family “do” in Yorkshire and a weekend in the dales) that Dominic Cooke might have dropped her in the doo-dah by asking her to programme the theatre from this May.

Her response is to open all doors and throw away the keys in a radical weekly rep programme of new plays in June and July called “Open Court,” which is pleasantly reminiscent of Bill Gaskill’s 1970 challenge and welcome to the fringe with his “Come Together” festival.

Featherstone’s appointment of John Tiffany and Carrie Cracknell as her associate directors is very good news, and even better is the confirmation that Simon Godwin – Cooke’s talented deputy, who might have been a plausible option for the top job himself – is staying on, too.

But the Theatre Local strand of work away from Sloane Square is going loco, with a sense that an expansionist National Theatre of Scotland-style ethic is kicking in, with work planned not only for the Bussey Building in Peckham (fair enough) but also in Haggerston (you tell me) and the London Welsh Centre – hello, what’s that? - for an unnecessary London premiere of David Greig’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, a trying and wildly over-praised “Scottish epic” at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago; John Arden it ain’t.

Talking of Edinburgh, I now know what Fergus Linehan’s “news” was that his mother, the great Irish actress, Rosaleen Linehan, couldn’t divulge to me on the telephone from Dublin two or three weeks ago... Fergus is the new artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival, succeeding Jonathan Mills in 2015 and taking up the post full time next October.

This is more great news, and not just because Fergus is such a nice fellah, nor because of his Linehan pedigree (his father, Fergal, is an Irish theatre and writing legend in himself), but because he really has earned what he calls an “honour” in his work running the Dublin Theatre Festival for five years, the Sydney Festival for five and Sydney Opera House (as Head of Music) for another two.

But are we supposed to toast his appointment in malt whiskey, the amber nectar or Guinness? I may have to ring his mother again...


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