Making ‘Hay’

Plans are advancing for the sort of news that spreads good cheer whatever the season: the return of Judi Dench to the London stage. The Oscar- and Tony-winning thesp is being paged to star for producer Bill Kenwright and director Peter Hall in a revival early next year of “Hay Fever.” Dench would play Judith Bliss, the retired actress and glorious narcissist at the center of Noel Coward’s 1925 comedy of bad manners.

If all goes ahead, production will reteam the director, producer and star of the smash West End 1998 revival of “Filumena,” following which Dench appeared under Hall’s direction in 2001 in “The Royal Family” — one of the rare Dench ventures to receive less than rave reviews.

Dench was most recently seen onstage as the Countess of Rousillon in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” also for Kenwright; that production, like virtually every one she does, sold out.

“Hay Fever” hasn’t been seen as frequently of late as, say, “Private Lives,” which will form part of Hall’s repertory season this summer at the Theater Royal, Bath. Its last West End revival, at the Savoy in 1999, was famous for eliciting hardly a single laugh, despite the star presence of Geraldine McEwan.

‘Coast’-ing along

So what happened to the New York bow of Tom Stoppard‘s historical epic “The Coast of Utopia,” you’ve no doubt been wondering? Well, here’s the plan “at the moment, and I have to say at the moment,” says Lincoln Center Theater a.d. Andre Bishop, who will produce the trilogy Stateside. (London saw it in 2002.)

The idea is to present all three plays (“Voyage,” “Shipwreck,” “Salvage”) in fall 2006, opening them individually at the Vivian Beaumont and then running the trio in repertory during the final two weeks. Jack O’Brien, as previously mentioned, will direct, with Bob Crowley and 2005 Tony winner Scott Pask sharing design chores.

‘Postman’ paying off

Do reviews matter? Not a lot, it would seem, in the case of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” the Val Kilmer starrer that is doing solid business at the Playhouse Theater despite decidedly sniffy reviews — alongside, to be fair, a flat-out rave in the influential Evening Standard.

“I think it’s got a life of its own,” producer Rupert Gavin tells Variety as regards the £350,000 ($635,000) staging, which has already extended its run two weeks to Aug. 13. Attendance has averaged 80% to date in the 750-seat Playhouse, a tricky venue whose figures are particularly good given the flood of West End openings of late.

What’s more, says Gavin, the “polarized reaction” at least indicates a show worthy of debate. “In my experience, it’s better to have some really good reviews and some really bad reviews than a lot of middling ones.”

Royal perfs

It’s hard to wax especially lyrical about “Kingfisher Blues,” the Lin Coghlan play that finished a monthlong run June 18 at the Bush Theater. By comparison with the Bush’s own high new writing standard set on shows like “Mammals,” distaff scribe Coghlan’s all-male drama was a metaphor-heavy affair that would have been better simply trawling its slice of south London life than straining for a significance (the title, for starters) it couldn’t achieve.

At the same time, the acting, as ever at this address, was a wonder, particularly the perfs of newcomers Toby Alexander and Josef Altin as two teenage lads whose friendship takes a troubling turn.

Playing an asthmatic 14-year-old and drunkard’s son who yearns to escape to Mallorca, Altin slid with amazing skill into the skin of a blunt-talking, bruised adolescent nearly a decade younger than the actor himself. Think of him and colleague Alexander as “Kingfisher’s” thespian princes.

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