LONDON — Is there a director in the house?
That’s the question that seems to be emanating from the Royal Shakespeare Co. in Stratford following news of the departure of two of the five directors of the Swan’s Elizabethan-Jacobean season, running April-September. David Hunt — who was to have staged Massinger’s little-known “The Roman Actor” starting May 22 — has left for health reasons; Sean Holmes has stepped into the breach.
More immediate is the withdrawal of Edward Hall (son of Peter Hall and his “Tantalus” colleague) from “Edward III,” the newly discovered Shakespeare play that is being touted as a prequel of sorts to “Richard II.” (That one starts performances April 10.) It seems Hall fils wasn’t too thrilled about a casting procedure that found him readying rehearsals with barely half his company in place.
Complicating matters: An ensemble of 28 players across the Swan’s five-play season, as opposed to the 80-plus ensemble that the RSC in Stratford has traditionally been able to call upon at any one time.
Hall has been replaced by Anthony Clark, a Birmingham-based helmer who staged last season’s “Loveplay” in the RSC’s Pit Theater in London. Not that Hall is out of work: Though his bid to take over the Almeida was unsuccessful, the director has been tapped by Bill Kenwright to helm a revival of Somerset Maugham’s 1927 play “The Constant Wife,” starring Jenny Seagrove (Kenwright’s other half).
As for the leader of the RSC, Adrian Noble, who might be expected to lend an assist during such moments, he has been otherwise ensconced on the West End. Noble presumably is busy making cars fly as director of the imminent London tuner “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
In Matthew’s eyes
How are such ructions affecting the RSC down in London? “Like any rehearsal room,” says Matthew Warchus, whose promenade-style production of “The Winter’s Tale” for the company opens April 9 at north London’s Roundhouse, “we could be on another planet.”
Warchus is busy fine-tuning what looks to be a highly unusual sound for Shakespeare’s ever-rending late romance — a play consumed by jealousy and renewal that on this occasion will have a decidedly American feel, set in the first act in 1940s film noir L.A. (think the Coen brothers, says Warchus) and, in the second, at a sheep-shearing fest in Appalachia.
To heighten the authenticity, Warchus has three Americans in his cast — among them his wife of eight weeks, Lauren Ward, whom he met while directing her on Broadway last season as Young Sally in “Follies.” (Ward also will appear in a subsequent Roundhouse venture, “Pericles,” directed by Noble.)
“The Winter’s Tale” reps Warchus’ first directing project since “Follies,” which was undoubtedly the most fiercely debated show of last season on either side of the Atlantic. How does that experience seem in retrospect? “I have no bitterness about ‘Follies’ at all; I achieved exactly what I wanted to do” — though he concedes that another million dollars for the physical production would not have gone amiss.
“There are few pieces so dark and painful as ‘Follies,’ ” Warchus says. (“The Winter’s Tale,” which has its own spectral resonances, may be one of them.) “I came away feeling only positive, really.”
Revue celebrates B’way lyricist
If you blinked, you probably missed “Dorothy Fields Forever,” an utterly delightful revue that played two weeks at the Jermyn Street Theater (closing March 9) — and, if there is any justice, will resurface for a longer run.
Fields and her lyrics are hardly unknown — they spawned a memorable Barbara Cook CD, “Close as Pages in a Book” — but there’s something exhilarating about a career that spanned so many decades (more than four) and gave so much joy, especially as performed in David Kernan’s production by Susannah Fellows, Angela Richards and a sparkling unknown named Rebecca Lock. (The two men, Daniel Crossley and Andrew Halliday, weren’t in the same league.)
Yes, scripter Eden Phillips could have cut back somewhat on the hagiography implicit in the title. Though even on that front, with Richards making a wry and pointed Fields surrogate, there was at least as much sass as sentimentality to fuel an evening in which more than 30 numbers passed nimbly and winningly by.