Jonathan Kent, former Artistic Director of the Almeida, is to lead a new Company at the Theatre Royal Haymarket which presents its first season of work from September 2007. Kent directs all three productions in the season, which comprises Restoration comedy The Country Wife, Edward Bond’s black comedy The Sea and new musical Marguerite.
The Theatre Royal Haymarket Company, established by the theatre’s producers Arnold M Crook and Nigel Everett, has assembled a stellar line-up of actors for its first season, including David Haig (Donkeys’ Years, Mary Poppins, My Boy Jack), Patricia Hodge (Boeing Boeing, Noises Off), Toby Stephens (currently in Betrayal), Eileen Atkins (There Came A Gypsy Riding), Fiona Glascott (Whipping It Up) and musical theatre star Ruthie Henshall. Designer Paul Brown and lighting designer Mark Henderson join Kent in working on all three productions.
Speaking at the launch of the new Company at the 186-year old Haymarket theatre today, Crook said: “We have to entertain people, to try and bring new audiences in continuously and try and satisfy our patrons which are so loyal to us, and in creating this new season we hope it will be exciting for everybody.”
Kent commented: “I want to say how delighted I am to be part of the inaugural season of the Haymarket Theatre Company, and what I think is a really imaginative and brave and important new venture in the West End, which is to have a series of plays produced by the theatre itself, under the aegis of an artistic director with a governing aesthetic. I think this is a very imaginative way forward.”
The season commences in September with William Wycherley’s The Country Wife (27 September-12 January, press night 9 October), with a cast including Haig, Hodge and Stephens. The restoration comedy “has the rare and unique distinction of being actually very funny,” said Kent, “and the added advantage of being about sex”. Written in 1675, the play centres on Horner (Stephens), a notorious and lascivious man about town, who has an ingenious scheme for the rampant and mass seduction of the women of London society. Meanwhile, the newly-married Pinchwife (Haig) desperately tries to keep his naïve country bride (Glascott) from the clutches of predatory London bachelors. Hodge plays Lady Fidget, with Liz Crowther as Mrs Squeamish.
Atkins leads the cast of the second play in the season, Bond’s The Sea (17 January-19 April 2008, press night 23 January), as Mrs Rafi, with Haig appearing in his second production for the Company. Marcia Warren joins them as Jessica Tilehouse.
Set in the high Edwardian world of 1907, The Sea is a blend of farce, social satire and poetic tragedy. When a wild storm shakes a small East Anglian seaside village, it sets off a series of events that changes the lives of all its residents. The play received its premiere at the Royal Court in 1973. The playwright, whose other plays include Saved, Early Morning Bingo and The Pope’s Wedding, has been “curiously sidelined” in recent years, said Kent.
Haig, who appears in both The Country Wife and The Sea, is already practising his East Anglian accent for his role in Bond’s comedy. The Laurence Olivier Award-winning actor is delighted to be back in the West End after a six-month break following Donkeys’ Years and he told officiallondontheatre the attraction of working with the Haymarket Company was the “overall premise like this, a season of plays, and not just predictable plays, plays that are ambitious and big and have great scale, and wouldn’t necessarily be expected to be seen by a commercial audience, that’s the great attraction”.
Ambitious is an apt description of the third production in the season, Marguerite (6 May-1 November 2008, press night 20 May), a new romantic, Paris-set musical by a creative team whose cumulative credits include musical epics Les Misérables and Miss Saigon. Marguerite has music composed by Oscar-winning composer Michel Legrand, who has written the scores for films including the original The Thomas Crown Affair, Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, Prêt-A-Porter and the 1995 big screen version of Les Misérables. The book is by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the duo behind the West End’s longest running musical Les Misérables and musicals Miss Saigon and Martin Guerre. They are joined by lyricist Herbert Kretzmer, who also collaborated on Les Misérables. His other work includes The Four Musketeers at Drury Lane and Our Man Crichton at the Shaftesbury.
Inspired by romantic novel La Dame Aux Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, Marguerite tells of a beautiful and notorious mistress of a high ranking German officer in Paris during World War Two. When Armand, a young, penniless musician half her age, falls obsessively in love with her, their dangerous love story is played out against the background of occupied Paris.
Henshall plays Marguerite. A star of many musicals in the West End and on Broadway, Henshall’s credits include Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, Putting It Together, The Woman In White, Chicago, Peggy Sue Got Married, Divorce Me Darling, Oliver!, She Loves Me (Laurence Olivier Award 1995) and Crazy For You.
The creation of the new Haymarket Company also offers new opportunities for those involved with the theatre’s successful Masterclass initiative. Created in 1998, to date Masterclass has enabled over 40,000 young people to work with and learn from leading artists in the theatre, film and television industries through a year-round programme of free events focusing on performance, directing, writing and producing. To coincide with Masterclass’s 10th anniversary and the launch of the Haymarket Company, young people will be selected for a new apprentice scheme, working alongside Kent and his production team on the new season. Places are offered for both acting and creative roles in the three productions. “[It] is an extremely innovative and important venture to attach young people to a theatre and to, in this case, three productions,” said Kent. “It’s a remarkable thing for a commercial theatre to do.”
To read excerpts from a launch interview with David Haig, visit The Alternate.