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Kenneth Branagh stages star-packed season

Published 16 April 2015

Judi Dench, Lily James, Richard Madden, Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh will star in a groundbreaking new 12-month season set to take over the Garrick Theatre this autumn.

The five acclaimed performers will lead a quintet of productions, including two Shakespeare plays, a French farce, a rarely performed Terence Rattigan piece and a modern classic, announced today as part of a year-long programme of work by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company.

The acclaimed actor, director and producer will appear in four of the five productions, kicking off as Leontes in a new production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, alongside Dench as Paulina, from 17 October (press night 7 November) to 16 January.

The reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic tale of obsession and redemption will be co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, who, together with Olivier Award-winning designer Christopher Oram and director Sean Foley, form the company’s central creative team.

The Winter’s Tale will play in rep with another production co-directed by the pair, as Branagh takes to the stage in Rattigan’s Harlequinade from 24 October (press night 7 November) to 13 January.

The rarely stage play follows a classical theatre company as it attempts to produce The Winter’s Tale and Romeo And Juliet – both of which appear as separate productions in the season – until the intrigues and dalliances of the company’s members get in the way, leading to chaotic and hysterical consequences.

The third production, The Painkiller, will see Brydon and Branagh reprise their roles in Foley’s adaptation of the Francis Veber farce following their acclaimed performances at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in 2011.

But, as Branagh told us, it will be an updated version of the show staged in Ireland: “There are some adjustments and amendments happening to the play itself and it’s being absolutely updated for now, for the Garrick Theatre and for Rob Brydon and I, five years on from the production we did in Belfast.”

Playing from 5 March (press night 17 March) to 30 April, The Painkiller tells the story of two men – one a killer, the other a man who wants to die – as they each find themselves in a lonely hotel room with an adjoining door.

The second Shakespearean production of the five-show season will see James and Madden, two actors Branagh has chosen “Because of their talent, their commitment and their brilliance”, take to the Garrick Theatre stage to play the star-crossed lovers in Romeo And Juliet.

The production, which is directed by Branagh and reunites the Downton Abbey actress and Game Of Thrones star following their work together on Branagh’s hit film Cinderella, will play from 12 May (press night 25 May) to 13 August.

Closing the season is John Osborne’s modern classic The Entertainer. Rob Ashford will direct Branagh as Archie Rice, the role made famous by Laurence Olivier when the show premiered at the Royal Court in 1957 and, three years later, in the subsequent film adaptation.

Set against the backdrop of post-war Britain, the play conjures the seedy glamour of the old music halls in an explosive examination of public masks and private torment. It will play from 20 August to 12 November.

Further casting for the season is still to be announced, but Ashford says the creative team has been “brainstorming and listing” potential performers to join the five announced today in the hope of creating “the perfect group of people to do it”.

Following in the footsteps of West End seasons staged by directors including Michael Grandage and Jamie Lloyd, ticket prices will also play an integral part in the team’s mission. Branagh said: “Over 10% of the entire year’s tickets are at £15 and there are no booking fees if you come by the website or directly to the Garrick Theatre. The face value of the ticket is the price you will pay. That’s across the board. That’s important.”

Tickets are now on sale and can be booked at www.branaghtheatre.com. To find out more of what Branagh, Ashford and Oram had to say about the season when we caught up with them on Wednesday, read our feature here.

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