Courting Stoppard

The world premiere of a new Tom Stoppard play, as yet untitled but with a director onboard in Trevor Nunn, is heading for the Royal Court: An eight-week run is due to kick off in early June as what must surely be the centerpiece of the Court’s still-aborning 50th-anni celebrations during 2006. Both Stoppard and Nunn are Court first-timers.

Although Stoppard and Nunn might have been expected to alight at the National, where the duo worked together famously on “Arcadia” and then across nine hours-plus on “The Coast of Utopia,” the scribe opted instead for the more raffish environs of the Court. This latest play reportedly has 20 speaking roles, but is unlikely to require as many actors.

Stoppard’s reasons for the shift in venue are said to have to do with the theater’s architecture. Quite what that means undoubtedly will be made clear when the Court unveils its half-century season on Oct. 11.

Abundant ‘Harvest’

You have to say this for the Court: Diversity remains its cornerstone. That’s rarely been more evident than in the week ending Oct. 1, which saw the conclusion of two sadly short-lived plays, both in letter-perfect productions. Perhaps “pause-perfect” is a better way to describe helmer James Macdonald‘s take on scribe Martin Crimp‘s hourlong “Fewer Emergencies,” a play steeped in Pinter and especially Caryl Churchill that nonetheless packs its own distinctively chilly punch.

In three one-acts that seem at first not to be connected and then suggest very definitely that they are, Crimp once again posits an eerily charged world, its blankness and bleakness inextricably linked. Imagine Gus van Sant‘s “Elephant” transposed to the stage, and you get some idea of a play that also seems to draw inspiration from the culture of Columbine.

Richard Bean‘s “Harvest,” on the Court mainstage, is an altogether more joyous occasion. Covering 91 years in the life of a Yorkshire pig farm, the play might seem on the surface rather forbiddingly English. (The thick Yorkshire accents were tricky to understand at times even for some British friends.)

But as directed by American Wilson Milam, “Harvest” manages to fold a century in Britain’s changing agricultural landscape into a deeply human story that could work wonderfully on TV. The play, as per the British norm these days, got wildly mixed reviews, prompting author Bean to respond in a Guardian column:

“At least three of the critics have described it as ‘one of the best new plays of the year.’ Fantasy fulfilled. Three critics have hated it. Nightmare fulfilled.”

Then again, “Fewer Emergencies” got a hefty four stars from the Guardian and copious head-scratching elsewhere. Could it be that a theater culture that for too long has thrived on critical consensus is at last discovering one person’s anathema can be another’s great night out?

‘White’ night

Hours before she boarded a plane for the first Broadway rehearsal of “The Woman in White,” the show’s lead London producer Sonia Friedman was on the phone to Variety to explain the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical’s imminent West End relaunch Oct. 7. (An earlier Sept. 19 date was postponed.)

“We’ve done some work to it,” explains Friedman of the London show, “and we want some people to come back and have a look at it, to remind people that we’re there.” Tuner was first out of the starting gate in September 2004, only to get sidelined by the subsequent bows of (in order of opening) “The Producers,” “Mary Poppins,” “Billy Elliot — The Musical” and “Guys and Dolls.”

“There’s been so much attention on so many new musicals that we wanted to celebrate our first year,” says Friedman of the show, which has yet to recoup 50% of its costs. If new leads Ruthie Henshall and Simon Callow find favor with local crix, “Woman” will have the tuner spotlight virtually to itself in a current West End climate that has no big musicals skedded for the rest of the year.

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