National Theater unveils premieres

Hytner raises awareness on arts funding

National Theater artistic director Nicholas Hytner unveiled on Thursday a raft of world premieres, new stage adaptations and classic revivals skedded for the next 12 months. He also used the occasion to set off alarm bells about the threat to British government arts funding.

Roger Michel will direct Pippa Haywood, Tom Hollander, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Jason Watkins in “Landscape With Weapon,” a new play about arms trading by Joe Penhall that will begin previews on March 29.

Matt Charman’s “The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder,” directed by Sarah Frankcom, will premiere in June, while Hytner will direct “Rafta, Rafta,” a new play by Ayub Khan-Din adapted from Bill Naughton’s 1965 comedy “All in Good Time.” In December, Hytner will also direct Zoe Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale as Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

National Theater associate director Marianne Elliott has three projects set up for the year, including Simon Stephens’ new play “Harper Regan” and a revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” opening July 11 and starring Anne-Marie Duff. On alarger scale, Elliott and NT associate director Tom Morris will direct Nick Stafford and Handspring Puppet Company’s epic adaptation of “War Horse,” a beloved story about WWI by children’s writer Michael Morpurgo.

Morris is also aboard with director Emma Rice for an adaptation of Powell and Pressburger’s 1946 British movie classic “A Matter of Life and Death” (aka “Stairway to Heaven”). Tristan Sturrock, Lyndsey Marshall and Douglas Hodge play the roles created by David Niven, Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey, respectively, in the romantic fantasy.

Howard Davies will direct Maxim Gorky’s dark 1902 comedy “Philistines” in a new version by Andrew Upton, co-director (with his wife Cate Blanchett) of the Sydney Theater Company. Also, after his Oliver and Tony-winning “Private Lives,” Davies returns to Noel Coward with a revival of “Present Laughter” starring Alex Jennings.

Paul Miller will direct the English premiere of “The Enchantment,” by 19th century Swedish author Victoria Benedictsson, in a new version by playwright and former theater critic Clare Bayley.

Having left the Royal Court on a high after critical and audience successes with Pinter’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” and Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” Ian Rickson returns to the NT with a rare revival of Pinter’s early comedy “The Hothouse,” opening in July.

Other projects in development include an unnamed piece to be directed and performed by British Asian dancer-choreographer Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche. Ralph Fiennes will take on the title role in a new version of Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” by poet Douglas Dunn, directed by Jonathan Kent in the Olivier before an international tour in fall 2008.

At the press conference, Hytner took the opportunity to comment on U.K. government warnings that arts orgs should expect, at best, standstill grants in the forthcoming spending round. Hytner, whose theater receives an annual grant of £16 million ($31.2 million), argued that arts institutions weren’t looking for grant increases but that standstill funding represented a deleterious cut.

The U.K., he pointed out, has created tax breaks and investment opportunities for British film that are visibly paying dividends in the form of the British presence at this year’s Oscars. Helen Mirren, Stephen Frears, Judi Dench and Patrick Marber, all of whom learned their trade in, and continue to work in, the British subsidized theater sector, have lent their voices to a plea to maintain funding levels.

Marber said, “It would be a huge blow — both for the theater and the future health of the film industry — if reduced funding forced theaters to take fewer risks and deny writers the chance to develop and find their voice.”

Hytner also delivered a eulogy to director Steven Pimlott, who died suddenly from cancer on Wednesday. Hytner himself will take over Pimlott’s production of “The Rose Tattoo,” starring Wanamaker and Darrell D’Silva, which opens at the NT on March 29.

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