‘Lieutenant’ on march

LONDON — Mad Padraic is on the move.

That’s the news pertaining to “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” the black and bloody Martin McDonagh comedy — its title character is an Irish paramilitary known as “mad Padraic” — that received rave reviews in two separate engagements at the Royal Shakespeare Co. Now, largely recast, Wilson Milam’s production is headed for the West End for a June opening, possibly at the New Ambassadors Theater.

The commercial stand reps continued good news for a play that was turned down by various high-powered theaters (many of them sporting the Royal moniker) before surfacing at the RSC. Plans are for an initial 20-week run under the auspices of Nick Starr’s Us Prods. alongside Sonia Friedman and Adam Kenwright, with Manhattan a hoped-for destination — New York Theater Workshop is already being mentioned as a possible home — if the dark satire about terrorism ever dares cross the Atlantic.

“LAST” BUT NOT LEAST

The “last weeks” being advertised for “Humble Boy” on the West End may be premature, says Matthew Byam Shaw, lead producer of Charlotte Jones’ Critics’ Circle Award-winner play, which has told one of the happier financial tales in a sometimes grim season. (The West End is rife with reports of double-digit attendance at some recent flops, including 17 hapless souls at the 900-seat Lyric one recent night to see now-departed David Warner starrer “The Feast of Snails.”)

By contrast, “Humble Boy” recouped £300,000 ($430,000) in transfer costs to the Gielgud Theater in less than four weeks. “You’ll appreciate,” says Byam Shaw, “that for a straight play, that is really doing something.” Not to be outdone, the concurrent West End revival of “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, paid back pretty sharply, too, recouping by March 16 a layout only slightly higher than that of “Humble Boy.”

But if the new play’s present looks rosy, what of its future, even with stars Simon Russell Beale and Felicity Kendal having agreed to stay another two weeks (through June 1) past their planned May 18 departure? While one can imagine countless Kendal replacements — Penelope Wilton and Sian Phillips, among them — Russell Beale would seem a tricky act to top.

To that end, Byam Shaw takes heart from several recent perfs when Russell Beale’s understudy went on, apparently to fine effect. “Simon is an extraordinary actor, and unique,” says his producer, “but Charlotte’s words can be spoken by another actor.”

SHEFFIELD SHUFFLE

The 3:25 train from London’s St. Pancras station to the south Yorkshire city of Sheffield was the place to be March 19, with le tout London gathered en route to the city’s Crucible Theater to assess Kenneth Branagh’s return to the stage after a 10-year absence (see review, page 45).

One wag termed the train “the Donmar express,” with reference to the multitude of Donmar Warehouse personnel keen to see the latest production from Michael Grandage, the London theater’s artistic director-designate, who steps into the job at the end of the year. But casting director David Grindrod, Really Useful exec Andre Ptaszynski and Royal National Theater literary manager Jack Bradley were among the many others (countless actors and critics included) along for the ride in order to judge for themselves the fastest-selling production in the Crucible’s not unstarry history. (Rupert Graves, Dominic West and Joseph Fiennes are just three alums of the venue.)

The following morning, flush with (mostly) raves and a show that had only day seats left to sell, the Crucible was reporting a queue of more than 50 people waiting outside at 9 a.m. for the box office to open an hour later. As anticipation levels go, that’s not quite Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in “The Producers,” but it’s pretty good for a regional British theater situated some three hours north of London.

Branagh, incidentally, is earning $500 a week for his perf, whereas the production’s lift to his career is likely to be incalculable — and huge.

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