LONDON — The National Theater’s first staging of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2” and Oscar nominee Mike Leigh’s first play in 12 years are among the shows artistic director Nicholas Hytner plans for 2005, his third year in the job.
Michael Gambon will play Falstaff in the Shakespeare double bill, which — unlike Lincoln Center Theater’s recent acclaimed “Henry IV” in New York — will present both plays in full, under Hytner’s direction. The two halves will open back-to-back May 4 in the Olivier, inaugurating the National’s third annual Travelex season, where two-thirds of tickets are made available for only £10 ($19).
“Vera Drake” writer-director Leigh will open his Cottesloe production, as yet untitled, in September after a typically lengthy rehearsal process. “Nick Hytner’s not a guy you say no to,” Leigh told Variety after the Feb. 3 announcement. “I feel proud to be part of (the National).”
Allan Corduner, who played Arthur Sullivan in Leigh’s 1999 pic “Topsy-Turvy,” and Olivier Award winner Samantha Spiro (“Merrily We Roll Along”) are among the cast.
Corduner’s “Topsy-Turvy” co-star, Jim Broadbent, returns to the National, opening May 19 in the midsize Lyttelton auditorium in “Theater of Blood.” Director Phelim McDermott’s production is adapted from the 1973 film about a Shakespearean actor who takes murderous revenge on his critics; Vincent Price starred onscreen.
A co-production with Britain’s Improbable troupe, “Theater of Blood,” per Hytner, makes good on a desire for the National “to create relationships with the kinds of groups who develop work in a less conventional way from the way our core repertoire is developed.”
Very much in the same vein is the April opening in the Cottesloe of “Tristan & Yseult,” which arrives at the National as a collaboration with Cornwall-based Kneehigh Theater. The touring ensemble has become known for mounting shows on beaches and in quarries, clay pits and tin mines, among other unexpected sites.
In addition to the “Henry IV” plays, the next £10 Travelex season will include two plays with contemporary resonance, following last fall’s “Stuff Happens,” about the Blair-Bush axis. June 16 sees the Olivier opening of writer-director David Farr’s “The U.N. Inspector,” which sounds as if it’s freely adapted from Nikolai Gogol’s 1830s masterwork “The Government Inspector.” (That play, in turn, is part of the imminent season at the Chichester Festival Theater, opening June 30.)
In September, the Olivier will host the world preem of “Playing With Fire,” a new play by Tony winner David Edgar (“The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby”). The drama (director to be named) deals with race relations in a fictional industrial town in the north of England.
Classics are repped in the Lyttelton by July’s revival of Brian Friel’s “Aristocrats,” directed by Tom Cairns, and, later in the year, helmer Jonathan Kent’s take on Ibsen’s “Ghosts.” Already in rehearsal is Howard Davies’ staging of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba,” in a new version by David Hare and starring Deborah Findley and Penelope Wilton; that one opens March 15.
The wild card in the Lyttelton rep is the October production from the ever-adventurous Katie Mitchell of Martin Crimp’s “Attempts on Her Life,” which provoked much head-scratching when it was first seen — directed by Tim Albery — in a studio-sized production at the Royal Court in 1997. Hytner called Crimp’s text “one of the most important and exciting plays of the last 10-20 years,” adding that it was “quite an ambitious affair to produce (the play) on a large scale.”
Beyond the Leigh premiere, other new plays in the Cottesloe will include Hytner’s production of “Southwark Fair,” by Samuel Adamson; scribe Howard Brenton’s “Paul,” about St. Paul, to be directed by Howard Davies; and the Cuba-set “President of an Empty Room,” which marks the theater debut of last year’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”).
Hytner says he was in no way bothered by the decline in NT nominations at the Olivier Awards to eight this year, after 20 in 2004 and 21 in 2003.
“What that indicates is how healthy the West End has been. The large-scale stuff is in tremendous health,” says Hytner, referring to the influx of big musicals to London over the last four or five months.
The National will have its own large-scale offering in the Olivier for Christmas and beyond: a revival of the American comedy “Once in a Lifetime,” which was famously directed by Trevor Nunn for the Royal Shakespeare Co. in 1979. Requiring a cast of 35-40, the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart collaboration from 1930 is “a play only we or the RSC could do,” says Hytner. No director has been named.