Shakespeare is coming home.
After a 113 million pound ($173 million) redevelopment, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s revamped theaters will open this autumn in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is only one plum in an already bountiful theater season. Derek Jacobi’s “King Lear” arrives at London’s Donmar Warehouse, and the Royal Opera stages the world premiere of “Anna Nicole,” based on the life of the U.S. Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith.
First, the Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s home in Stratford has long been in need of a facelift. The 1930s building had looked tired and unwelcoming, and the backstage areas were cramped and inconvenient.
Artistic director Michael Boyd, at a preview press conference, said that the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, formally a proscenium space, has been transformed into an adaptable 1,000- seat, thrust-stage auditorium with better access for actors and audience. There are also new restaurants, improved Art Deco public areas, and a 36 meter viewing tower over the river Avon. The smaller, galleried Swan Theatre also has had minor improvements.
The spaces will open to the public in November for an initial period of open-house events to test out the new building. Revivals of full productions will be staged starting in February. There will then be an official grand re-opening in April 2011 to coincide with the RSC’s 50th anniversary.
Matilda in Courtyard
In November, the temporary Courtyard Theatre in Stratford also will house the premiere of the RSC’s “Matilda: A Musical” by Tim Minchin, based on a story by Roald Dahl.
Executive director Vikki Heywood said that the four-year project had been delivered on time and on budget. She said 50 million pounds had come from Arts Council England, 20 million pounds from local government, and the rest from individuals and foundations, with 5 million pounds outstanding. Heywood said she already had identified where that sum was likely to come from.
There’s plenty on offer in the U.K. capital too. The work of U.S. activist-playwright Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) has just arrived at the small Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. “Tiny Kushner,” a series of five one-act plays looking at the paradoxes of war and love, runs until Sept. 25.
The Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale turns his hand to murder-comedy-mystery hokum in Ira Levin’s amusing “Deathtrap” at the Noel Coward Theatre, which is booking through Jan. 22, 2011.
Starting on Dec. 3, Jacobi is King Lear in a Donmar Warehouse production by the reliable Michael Grandage, Michael Gambon performs “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett from Sept. 15 at the Duchess Theatre, and Nicholas Hytner directs “Hamlet” with Rory Kinnear at the National Theatre, opening Sept. 30.
One of the sharpest and wittiest of British sitcoms makes it to the stage. “Yes, Prime Minister” is at the Gielgud Theatre, starting on Sept. 17. The life and loves of an unlovely tycoon are explored in “Onassis,” starring the superb Robert Lindsay, at the Novello Theatre from Sept. 30.
The latter play also features Anna Francolini as Maria Callas. The legendary diva would have been unlikely to consider a role in the Royal Opera’s latest world premiere “Anna Nicole” by Mark Anthony Turnage, with a libretto by Richard Thomas of “Jerry Springer: The Opera” fame.
The soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek sings the role of the surgically enhanced Playboy model who married a multimillionaire 63 years older than herself. It’ll either be a riot of delicious vulgarity or an almighty flop. It certainly won’t be ignored. (Opens Feb. 17, 2011).
A more traditional Royal Opera hot ticket will be David McVicar’s new production of Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur,” with Angela Gheorghiu in the lead role and Jonas Kaufmann as her lover Maurizio. (From Nov. 18.)
English National Opera’s new productions include “Faust” (Sept. 18) and “Don Giovanni” (Nov. 6).
A handful of large-scale musicals are heading into town. “Flashdance” is at the Shaftesbury Theatre from Sept. 24, “Love Story” is at the Duchess Theatre, starting Nov. 27, and in February next year “The Wizard of Oz” takes over from “Sister Act” at the London Palladium. “Shrek the Musical” also is slated for Drury Lane in June 2011.
In a welcome tribute to Stephen Sondheim, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, the Donmar Warehouse stages his “Passion,” starring the tiny and electrifying Elena Roger, starting on Sept. 10.
For information about the Royal Shakespeare Company http:://www.rsc.org.uk or +44-844-482-8008. For its “Matilda: A Musical,” go to http://www.matildamusical.com or call +44-844-800-1110. For “Tiny Kushner,” see http://www.tricycle.co.uk or call +44-20-7328-1000. For many other shows, including “Deathtrap,” “Onassis” and “Yes, Prime Minister,” see http://www.delfontmackintosh.com or call +44-844-482-5140.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)