Hampton heatwave

Christopher Hampton may claim modestly to be “so slow with plays,” but you might think otherwise in a climate that finds the 59-year-old scribe surfacing almost everywhere.

With the sellout Donmar revival of his play “The Philanthropist” prompting talk of a West End and even Broadway transfer, Hampton has three new scripts poised for London homes over the next 14 or 15 months.

First is the already announced West End “Embers,” opening March 1 at the Duke of York’s, which brings Jeremy Irons back to the London stage for the first time in almost 20 years. Toward the end of 2006, Hampton will premiere his adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at the Royal Court, where he was resident dramatist more than 30 years ago. (At the time, he adapted a now-famous “Uncle Vanya,” with Paul Scofield in the title role.)

In 2007 comes the National Theater premiere of a play still, he says, “at the research stage” but based on the William Dalrymple novel, “White Mughals.” Show is about the East India Company at the turn of the 18th century and filters the British presence on the Indian subcontinent through the relationship between a Muslim princess and an English officer in Hyderabad.

“It takes place at the same time as ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses,’ ” says Hampton, referencing his best-known play. “But it’s set in India.”

A big play, then, for the National’s biggest auditorium, the Olivier? That’s the idea, says Hampton, though these things can change.

His 1991 NT “White Chameleon,” he says, “was supposed to be about the Suez crisis, so was intended for the Olivier.”

Instead, he smiles of what remains his most autobiographical work. “It turned out to be about me, so it was in the (studio-sized) Cottesloe.”

Any onward life for “The Philanthropist,” incidentally, will have to wait until its star, Simon Russell Beale, finishes his upcoming Broadway stint in “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

‘Woman’ now — and Zen

So how is the new West End cast of “The Woman in White,” you’re no doubt dying to know, following producer Sonia Friedman‘s stated desire to give the Andrew Lloyd Webber tuner a renewed London lease on life?

The answer: not half bad. At least three of the replacements improve on the originals, and William Dudley‘s hyperactive CGI set seems, thank heavens, to have simmered down. (And, on Oct. 8 at least, was in focus, which was more than could be said of the first London press night.)

Elinor Collett makes a less shrill inhabitant of the spectral title role, while Michael Cormick‘s Percival Glyde doesn’t just play a pantomime villain. Fresh out of drama school, Alexandra Silber as Laura displays vocal and acting chops sure to take her far, while Simon Callow‘s growly Count Fosco substitutes recognizably human brio for the blimpish operatic refugee originally portrayed by Michael Crawford.

The one real disappointment is the mechanical, overly winsome Marion — the show’s star role — of Ruthie Henshall, who is also way too comely for the part. Among the holdovers, onetime classical theater mainstay Edward Petherbridge now looks so relaxed in his small but scene-stealing role as the aging Mr. Fairlie that his perf exudes what one can only call theatrical zen.

Brit bits

  • “Ducktastic” is delaying its Albery Theater opening by two performances, which means it will now preem, most unusually, at the Wednesday matinee Oct. 19. Idea is to give the four-feathered friends of the title more time to learn their tricks.

  • Spring 2006 now looks likely for the West End bow of Richard Greenberg‘s “The American Plan,” first touted for this fall. The plan is to open David Grindley‘s production in the same May slot as Grindley’s since-concluded staging of Neil LaBute‘s “Some Girl(s),” which starred David Schwimmer.
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