Major Barbara launches National Theatre spring season

Published April 17, 2008

The sixth year of the National Theatre’s Travelex £10 season opens in 2008 with a revival of Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara directed by the National’s Director Nicholas Hytner. Also coming to the South Bank venue at the start of the new year are Lucinda Coxon’s new play Happy Now?, Peter Handke’s The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other and short pieces by Roy Williams, Dennis Kelly and Lin Coghlan.

Following the success of this year’s Saint Joan, Hytner has chosen to revive another Bernard Shaw classic in state-of-the-nation piece Major Barbara. The production, which runs in the Olivier from 26 February (press night 4 March), stars National regular Simon Russell Beale as millionaire weapons manufacturer Andrew Undershaft.

Undershaft donates a large sum of money to the Salvation Army shelter at which his estranged daughter, the eponymous Barbara, works. When she visits the happy workers at his factory, a devastating case for a new set of ideals is made.

Multi-award winner and NT Associate Russell Beale is about to star opposite Zoë Wanamaker in the National’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. His previous National credits include The Alchemist, The Life Of Galileo, Volpone Jumpers, Humble Boy and Hamlet. He has also played King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot and appeared in the Donmar Warehouse double-bill of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night, for which he won a Laurence Olivier Award.

Thea Sharrock returns to the National, where she directed The Emperor Jones this summer, to direct Happy Now? at the Cottesloe in January (previews from 16 January, press night 24 January). The piece stars Olivia Williams as Kitty, a woman for whom a chance encounter leads to a struggle to balance personal freedom with family life, fidelity and a testing job.

This will be the first time Williams has returned to the National since appearing in Trevor Nunn’s farewell production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. She has since appeared in The Hotel In Amsterdam (Donmar Warehouse) and Cheek By Jowl’s The Changeling (Barbican). Her film credits include The Sixth Sense, Rushmore and The Heart Of Me.

Williams is joined in the cast by Jonathan Cullen, Emily Joyce, Anne Reid, Dominic Rowan and Stanley Townsend.

Pip Carter, Lisa Dillon, Amy Hall, Sara Stewart, Simon Wilson and Sarah Woodward, who are all currently appearing in Present Laughter, will stay at the Lyttelton in the new year to appear in The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other (previews from 6 February, press night 13 February). They are joined by Callum Dixon, Noma Dumezweni, Susannah Fielding, Daniel Hawksford, Mairead McKinley, Daniel Poyser, Giles Terera and Jason Thorpe. The production is directed by James Macdonald who previously directed Exiles (National), Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?, Dying City, Fewer Emergencies (all Royal Court) and Glengarry Glen Ross (Apollo).

Handke’s play features 25 actors playing 450 characters with no dialogue; characters fleetingly connected by proximity alone.

Short plays Baby Girl (Williams), DNA (Kelly) and The Miracle (Coghlan), were written especially for a teenage audience and have been developed from the National’s Connections programme. Each under one hour long, they tell stories of unwanted pregnancy, group misdemeanours and life-changing events. The productions, directed by Paul Miller, will generally be shown as double-bills, and preview at the Cottesloe from 16 February (press night 28 February).

Also playing at the National in spring 2008 are Women Of Troy, Statement Of Regret, War Horse, Much Ado About Nothing and Present Laughter.

MA