Jeremy Irons is to make his National Theatre debut playing former British PM Harold Macmillan in a new drama by Howard Brenton, Never So Good, which opens in the Lyttelton on 19 March.
The news was revealed by the National’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner, at a press conference to announce the venue’s forthcoming season, which includes many new plays alongside several classics. In addition to Brenton’s new play, the National will premiere new work by Michael Frayn, Tony Harrison, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Samuel Adamson and Simon Stephens, in a season which Hytner described as having “a very good chance of being largely marvellous”.
Howard Davies (Present Laughter) returns to the National to direct Never So Good, in which Irons, who was last seen in the West End in Embers, stars opposite Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill. Hytner described Brenton’s new play, which was commissioned by the National, as an exploration of democratic politics and the compromises required by those in power.
The season in the Lyttelton continues with David Hare directing Vanessa Redgrave in Joan Didion’s memoir The Year Of Magical Thinking, which opens on 30 April, followed in June by a new play by Frayn (Copenhagen, Noises Off, Donkeys’ Years), Afterlife, which explores the life of the Austrian founder of the Salzburg Festival, Max Reinhardt. Michael Blakemore directs.
Later in the year, in addition to the already announced collaboration between Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche, scheduled for September, Harold Pinter’s A Slight Ache will be produced for a run of early evening performances during the summer, with a cast including Simon Russell Beale (currently in Much Ado About Nothing). October sees DV8 return to the National with a new work by Lloyd Newson, To Be Straight With You.
In the Olivier theatre, the Travelex £10 season continues beyond the forthcoming Major Barbara with Fram, a new play by Tony Harrison, which opens on 17 April. Telling the story of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, Fram has a cast including Jasper Britton and Sian Thomas, and is directed by Harrison and Bob Crowley.
Rory Kinnear (Philistines, The Man Of Mode) stars in the third play in the Travelex season, Thomas Middleton’s Elizabethan play The Revenger’s Tragedy, which Melly Still (Coram Boy) directs in June. In July, Davies continues his stay at the National by directing Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin, set against the backdrop of the Suffragette movement, while August sees a revival of Tom Stoppard and André Previn’s 1977 symphonic drama Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, co-produced by the National and the Southbank Sinfonia.
As previously announced, the Olivier welcomes Ralph Fiennes to the stage in October, as he plays the title role in Frank McGuinness’s new version of Sophocles’s Oedipus, directed by Jonathan Kent. November brings another chance to catch 2007’s Christmas hit, War Horse. This adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel, which is currently playing until 14 February, is brought to life using life-sized horse puppets by the Handspring Puppet Company.
The National continues its commitment to new work in the Cottesloe with two new plays, a new devised show and one transfer of a new play – Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters, which premiered in Newcastle in 2007.
Director Marianne Elliott (Saint Joan) stages both of those new plays. Firstly, in April, she directs Lesley Sharp in Harper Regan, a new play by Simon Stephens, who won the Best New Play Laurence Olivier Award in 2006 for On The Shore Of the Wide World, which also premiered in the Cottesloe. Elliott returns to the Cottesloe in November to direct Mrs Affleck, a new play by Samuel Adamson (Southwark Fair) based on Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.
In July, National regular Katie Mitchell (Women Of Troy, Waves) creates a new production based on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, with a cast including Ben Whishaw (recently seen in the film Perfume), who last worked with Mitchell on her pared-down production of Chekhov’s The Seagull in the Lyttelton in 2006. Mitchell’s 2006 show Waves, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, also returns the Cottesloe for a limited run this August.
Speaking about the season as a whole, Hytner commented: “2008 will be the most ambitious year since I became the National's director. It will be marked above all by the extraordinary confidence of British playwriting, which is in evidence all over the country, at theatres large and small. We have four new plays from the current great generation of major English playwrights, and eight from their successors. Many of them are on an epic scale, and they share the repertoire with an unprecedented profusion of classics, devised shows, physical theatre and dance theatre. The National is only part of a surge of creative energy throughout the British theatre and I'm looking forward to seeing the results on our stages.”
Looking further ahead to 2009, Hytner announced plans to premiere David Hare’s new work, Gethsemane, directed by Howard Davies, while the director-actor team of Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw follow last year’s Happy Days with a production of Brecht’s Mother Courage.