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Since one of the highlights of 2006 was Harold Pinter returning to the stage after more than one life-threatening illness to play Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape”, I’ve been telling everybody that now he’s going on to play “Hello Dolly!”. When I told Pinter, he simply said: “I’m looking forward to that!” However, since that plan hasn’t yet made it into any press release, here are some highlights that have reached a more concrete stage of promise.
Let’s pass over the European stage premiere of the musical of “The Lord of the Rings” (Drury Lane, June). And, since I’m no great admirer of Peter Shaffer’s serious plays, let’s pass over Daniel Radcliffe’s West End stage debut in “Equus” opposite Richard Griffiths (Gielgud Theatre, February). Let’s even pass over Ian McKellen in the title role of “King Lear” as directed by Trevor Nunn (starting in March at Stratford-upon-Avon’s new Courtyard Theatre): neither the last McKellen-Nunn collaboration (Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People”) nor McKellen’s last Shakespeare (Prospero in a Leeds “Tempest” in 1999) was a knockout, although I can’t help hoping that this one will be.
No, here are the events to which I just can’t help looking forward:
1. “The Seagull” at the Royal Court (previews from January 18). This is Ian Rickson’s farewell production after eight years at the helm as artistic director: his virtues are classic ones, yet it seems likely that he will shake up this often-seen Chekhov into a new amalgam. Kristin Scott Thomas, so moving as Masha in a fairly traditional “Three Sisters” in 2003, is Arkadina, Chiwetel Ejiofor is Konstantin and Art Malik is Trigorin – so there will be a rainbow spread to the production’s look.
2. “The Man of Mode” at the National (Olivier Theatre, previews from January 29). There has been no important British production of George Etherege’s mischievous play since 1989 (RSC). Nicholas Hytner directs this one, and his cast is led by two of the brightest young British actors to have emerged this millennium, Rory Kinnear as Sir Fopling Flutter and Nancy Carroll as Mrs Loveit. My enthusiasm for Kinnear’s performances across a range of plays tragic and comic, ancient and modern, knows no bounds, and Carroll has proved herself to be irresistible in plays from Marivaux to British farce. Hytner’s gifts for directing comedy and classical drama are unequalled.
3. Maggie Smith’s return to the stage in Edward Albee’s “The Lady from Dubuque” (Haymarket, Theatre Royal, opening March 20). Anthony Page, directing, has now become the world’s foremost director of Albee plays (most recently with “The Goat” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) and his direction of Smith in Albee’s “Three Tall Ladies” was one of her greatest successes in the 1990s. Every connoisseur of
acting will always want to catch every stage role of Smith’s: she can do miracles.