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Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson returns to the stage in Oliver!

Published April 17, 2008

Comic actor and writer Rowan Atkinson makes his return to the West End stage to play Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh’s revival of Oliver!, which has confirmed it will open at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 14 January 2009 (previews from 12 December 2008). Recent Best Director Laurence Olivier Award-winner Rupert Goold takes on directing duties for the revival, which is based on Sam Mendes’s 1994 production at the London Palladium.

Atkinson will star alongside the winners of the latest BBC reality television programme, I’d Do Anything, which is currently running on Saturday nights. Following the mould of last year’s Any Dream Will Do, the programme sees Andrew Lloyd Webber and his panel of experts search for an actress to play Nancy and three boys to alternate in the title role of Oliver.

Atkinson’s long and varied career has encompassed stage, television and film, both as actor and writer. On television, he was a founder member and sketch writer of the BBC satire Not The Nine O’Clock News and went on to star in popular comedy series Blackadder, Mr Bean and The Thin Blue Line. His film credits include Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Lion King, Love Actually, Johnny English, Keeping Mum and two big screen outings for Mr Bean.

In joining the cast of Oliver!, Atkinson returns to the stage for the first time since the 1980s, when his highly successful one-man show Rowan Atkinson In Revue ran at London’s Globe (now Gielgud), before touring the UK and internationally. The performance earned him a 1981 Laurence Olivier Award for Comedy Performance of the Year.

Playing Fagin fulfils a long-held ambition for the actor, said Atkinson: “In the 1980s I enjoyed doing a lot of West End theatre and since then have been distracted very much by Mr Bean and film making. I had been thinking for some time about returning to the stage and the idea of the role of Fagin, which has long intrigued me, (some time ago I even played the role in a school production), seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.”

Producer Cameron Mackintosh commented: “I’m thrilled that Rowan Atkinson has finally reviewed the situation and succumbed to his long-held ambition to play Fagin. We have been discussing the possibility on and off for many years and to me this idea has always promised the perfect marriage of a brilliant mercurial role with a brilliant mercurial comic actor.”

Director Goold received his Laurence Olivier Award this year for directing the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Macbeth, with Patrick Stewart in the title role. After a highly acclaimed run at London’s Gielgud theatre, garnering many awards, the play crossed the pond and is currently playing on Broadway. Goold’s other recent London credits include The Tempest, also with Stewart, The Glass Menagerie and Speaking Like Magpies, plus several productions for Headlong theatre company, of which he is Artistic Director. The company is currently at the Almeida, where Goold directs a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, which previews from 28 March.

Goold joins co-director and choreographer Matthew Bourne and designer Anthony Ward, who both worked on the 1994 production of Lionel Bart’s musical, which broke the then record for the longest run at the London Palladium. Mackintosh said the revival at Drury Lane will feature a cast and orchestra of over 100, performing the musical’s many well-known songs including Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself and I’d Do Anything.

Currently at the Drury Lane is epic musical The Lord Of The Rings, which last week confirmed it is closing at the venue on 19 July after a run of just over a year.

Ticket booking for Oliver! opens on 7 April.

CB