A trio of plays by black Americans, August Wilson‘s “Gem of the Ocean” among them, will make up the bulk of the Tricycle Theater’s 2005-06 season, featuring the first shared ensemble the north London venue has hosted.

Two-time Pulitzer winner Wilson announced last month that he has inoperable liver cancer and has been given a limited life expectancy by doctors.

Wilson’s drama, opening Jan. 10 for a monthlong run, will be flanked on either side by Abram Hill‘s little-known “Walk Hard,” a Broadway entry from 1942, and Lynn Nottage‘s “Fabulation,” which had a well-received Off Broadway run in summer 2004.

“I’ve always wanted to have an ensemble but never had the opportunity,” says Tricycle a.d. Nicolas Kent, who will direct “Walk Hard,” the boxing drama that kicks off the three-play lineup. Next comes “Ocean,” courtesy of U.K. helmer Paulette Randall, marking her fourth Wilson gig at this address. (The Tricycle has staged the U.K. debuts of all but three Wilson plays.) Royal Court regular Indhu Rubasingham takes directing reins on “Fabulation.”

“My expertise, slightly, is I really do know a fair amount about black American theater,” says Kent, whose lengthy stewardship of the Tricycle has seen important productions of plays by Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin and Alice Childress, among others.

It helped, he says, that the upcoming plays have ample thematic scope — and cast size to match. “Walk Hard,” for instance, will have a cast of 18 playing 27 roles. “It’s a wonderful play, very profligate with its characters,” Kent says of a script that was a product of the erstwhile American Negro Theater, founded in Harlem in June 1940. “People come on, come off, and you never see them again.”

Actors so far contracted include Jenny Jules, Carmen Monroe (inheriting Phylicia Rashad‘s Tony-nommed “Ocean” assignment as Aunt Ester), and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. Joseph Marcell will be in the first two plays but not the third.

In keeping with the interest in substantial casts is the return for 20 perfs, starting Sept. 20, of Kent’s acclaimed verbatim theater piece “Bloody Sunday — Scenes From the Saville Inquiry,” which will travel to Dublin’s Abbey Theater as part of the Dublin Theater Fest. That show, with its look back at Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland in January 1972, has a cast of 23.

“I think large-cast plays appeal,” Kent tells Variety. “People are tired of one-man shows.”

Rise and fall

How did London’s summer terror campaign affect West End biz? Answers are beginning to emerge in figures provided by the Society of London Theater. Though the second quarter of 2005 (April through June) was 10% up from the previous year, largely due to the arrival of such instant sellouts as “Billy Elliot — The Musical” and Ewan McGregor in “Guys and Dolls,” biz from July 3-Aug. 6 saw a 2% decline from the same period last year.

That period covers the July 7 attacks, which shut down the West End entirely for the first time since WWII, as well as the July 21 attempted attacks, which resulted in police cordons throughout the capital.

Paul James, SOLT’s commercial manager, places the figures in perspective: “When you consider we were flying before that, to go from a 10%-plus figure to a 2%-minus figure shows the kind of dip we’ve had. There’s no point in denying (the bombs) haven’t had an impact.”

Still, ever bullish, James points out, “Well over 1 million people have gone to a West End show” since July 7 and overall theater attendance for 2005 to date is still up 6.4% from the same period in ’04 — a function of the mega-musical influx that began last autumn with “The Woman in White,” “The Producers” and “Mary Poppins” and carried through into the spring.

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