The West End revolution: Judi Dench, Jude Law, David Walliams and Daniel Radcliffe…for 10 a seat!
00:22 GMT, 15 June 2012
Leading lady: Sheridan Smith will play Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, in A Midsummer Night's Dream
Award-winning director Michael Grandage has assembled a who’s who of British actors to launch the revolutionary first season of his new West End theatre company.
Simon Russell Beale, Judi Dench, Jude Law, Daniel Radcliffe, Sheridan Smith, David Walliams and Ben Whishaw will star in five plays (each running for 12 weeks) that Grandage will direct at the Noel Coward Theatre from December 1 — and which audiences can watch for as little as 10 a show.
Every performance of every production of The Michael Grandage Company will feature 200 seats for a tenner.
So for just 50, some lucky theatre goer will be able to watch Simon Russell Beale in Privates On Parade; Judi Dench in an extraordinary new work by John Logan (who wrote the hit play Red) about the real-life inspirations behind Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan; Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple Of Inishmaan; Sheridan Smith and David Walliams in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Jude Law as warrior king Henry V.
The season kicks off with Russell Beale playing camp-as-Christmas Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’ classic Privates On Parade.
The show, featuring Denis King’s score, is about an army song and dance unit in the Malayan jungle circa 1948. Grandage directed an acclaimed version at the Donmar in 2001 with Roger Allam and James McAvoy, but stressed this would be a fresh take.
He added that Russell Beale was ‘quite excited’ about playing Captain Dennis ‘because this will be an opportunity to put some fruit on his head.’ Certainly a pineapple with a cherry on top.
Privates will be revealed from December 1, with an official opening night on December 10.
Grandage and executive producer James Bierman (who had a similar role at the Donmar for five years of Grandage’s tenure) were adamant the new company should offer an expansive education strategy and affordable tickets.
‘That’s 200 seats a night — more than 100,000 seats’ for the initial 14-month residency at the Noel Coward ‘for a tenner’, Grandage said, when we met at the pair’s suite of offices above the gods at the Gielgud Theatre.
Bierman added that the three-tier ticket structure would offer seats for 57.50, 27.50 and 10.
Grandage, who stepped down as the Donmar’s artistic chief six months ago, said the cheap ticket holders would not all be herded into the upper balcony, either. Rather, they would be spread throughout the auditorium, including prime stalls and circle seats. When all the seats are gone, you will be able to stand for 10, Bierman said.
The National Theatre under Nicholas Hytner has long offered seasons of cheap seats — originally 10, now 12 — made possible through sponsorship from Travelex. But pricing at the National has to be seen to be in the public interest.
Setting the scene: The Noel Coward Theatre in London will be the venue for the five plays that will each run for 12 weeks and cost as little as 10 a show
Award-winning director Michael Grandage, left, and executive producer James Bierman, right, were determined to make sure the shows had affordable tickets
That’s not the case in the commercial theatre, although shrewd West End producers have for some time offered some lower priced tickets. Not for a tenner, though. And not 200 per performance.
It’s clear the Grandage-Bierman ethos has been informed by the community and educational work they did at the Donmar.
‘We’re not receiving a subsidy, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your core values,’ Grandage said. He added that he and Bierman were exploring ways of reaching out to young people — through free performances for schools, education work and trainee positions for young directors and designers.
But Grandage emphasised the new company needed to be ‘a commercial venture and make money.’
Bierman said one important aspect would be to offer free performances for each production — offering all 952 seats at the Noel Coward to London schools and colleges. He added there would also be special rates for other school parties.
It’s an ambitious programme and the most exciting theatrical venture since Kevin Spacey took on the Old Vic a decade ago.
Sexy Sheridan to be David's Dream girl
Sheridan Smith and David Walliams are set for the sexiest Dream ever.
The pair will appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Sheridan playing Titania the Queen of the Fairies and David as Bottom in Shakespeare’s comedy about lovers finding the path to happiness in an enchanted forest.
Always the comedian: David Walliams will star as Bottom in the famous Shakespeare play
Michael Grandage has picked the play as the fourth production of his 14-month tenancy at the Noel Coward theatre.
Grandage said he envisions the play’s disparate sets of star-crossed lovers fleeing a pent-up court for a place where the real and mythical worlds collide in sensual abandon.
‘Once in the forest there’s a kind of anarchic sexual freedom, and the casting of Sheridan and David helps me define that,’ says Grandage.
‘As Titania and Bottom they’re already in the forest, doing what they do. When I met Sheridan and David, I said: “Let’s make it a really, absolutely sexual production.” ’
As the play doesn’t begin performances until September 7 of next year, Grandage, his cast and designers Christopher Oram and Paule Constable have plenty of time to visualise the kind of lawless love-in he has in mind.
In any case, Sheridan knows the fairytale wood’s terrain well, having played lovestruck Hermia six years ago at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.
Since then, she has played the lead in Legally Blonde at the Savoy, though for me her great triumph was her exquisite study in heartbreak in Trevor Nunn’s celebrated revival of Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path at the Haymarket a couple of seasons back.
I also saw Sheridan in an early preview of ITV’s thriller The Scapegoat, due on TV in the autumn: she’s great as a frustrated wife in love with her brother-in-law. She shies away from nothing.
Walliams wants to beef up his stage CV following his dramatic debut in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land in 2008.
Grandage told me that when he and Walliams met, the actor produced a lively list of parts he wants to play and the Bard’s Bottom was prominently displayed on it.
‘It’s a great comic role,’ says Grandage.
Dame Judi will show dark side of Wonderland
Judi Dench is returning to the stage to portray Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the woman who, as a girl, inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice In Wonderland.
The much-loved actress will be joined by Ben Whishaw, one of the best actors of his generation, who will play Peter Llewelyn Davies. When he was a boy, Peter met, and sparked the imagination of, J.M. Barrie, who went on to write Peter Pan.
Judi Dench, pictured as Ophelia in a production of Hamlet at the Old Vic in 1957, started out on the stage
The play is called Peter And Alice and is a new drama by John Logan, who won hoopla galore for Red, which originated at the Donmar and went on to win Tony Awards on Broadway.
Michael Grandage will direct Peter And Alice, which will begin previews at the Noel Coward Theatre on March 9, officially opening March 25 and running to June 1.
Girl like Alice: Dame Judi Dench is returning to what she does best in a stage production of Alice In Wonderland
When Alice Liddell Hargreaves was 80 in 1932, she opened the centenary celebrations for Lewis Carroll’s birth being held at what was Bumpus Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. Also there was Peter Llewelyn Davies, who had organised the exhibition.
‘You have the real-life figures of Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies, who met each other briefly for about 40 minutes,’ Michael Grandage explained. ‘John Logan imagined what they said to each other, and that’s the basis for the play.’
Grandage said Peter And Alice poses questions about how iconic figures cope with their reality.
‘Would you prefer it never happened’ he wondered. After all, Alice and Peter were children when they were hurled into the public eye and in adulthood they came to resent their fictional identities.
It also explores the nature of celebrity and privacy, and as Alice and Peter discuss their lives, the imaginary characters in the stories penned by Carroll and Barrie interact with them. But it’s not a whimsical matinee for children. ‘It’s a mature, quite dark drama,’ Grandage said. He and Judi have worked together before on Madame De Sade, while Logan was one of the writers of the latest 007 film, Skyfall, in which Judi plays M.
Whishaw has extensive stage credits, but Peter And Alice marks the first time he has worked with Grandage. The actor will soon be seen in the BBC film of Richard II, directed by Rupert Goold as part of the Hollow Crown series of the Bard’s work, executive produced by Sam Mendes and the brilliant Pippa Harris.
Daniel's leap from Potter to pathos
Daniel Radcliffe read Martin McDonagh’s much-lauded play The Cripple Of Inishmaan and knew he had to do it.
Set in 1934, it is about a young man with a withered hand and foot who lives off the west coast of Ireland, and is known by the locals as ‘Cripple Billy’.
‘It’s got pathos, heartbreak — and it’s very funny,’ said Daniel.
On the neighbouring Isle of Arran, an American film-maker is shooting a documentary and Billy feels this is his chance to escape.
Daniel Radcliffe, who starred as Alan Strang in the theatre production Equus, will return to the stage in The Cripple Of Inishmaan
‘A young boy desperate to be in film . . . I can relate to that,’ Daniel laughed, speaking to me from the set of A Young Doctor’s Handbook, a Sky TV drama he’s shooting with Jon Hamm. The physical challenge of the play appealed to Radcliffe, too, after a year spent singing and dancing on Broadway in How To Succeed In Business Without Even Trying.
Jude law is set to star at Henry V after finishing his run in the West End production of Hamlet
‘I’ve been desperate to find something to come back to London with,’ he said, adding that he and Michael Grandage engaged in a series of discussions while they were working in New York.
Grandage was impressed (as were we all) that in the middle of his Harry Potter career, Daniel tackled Peter Shaffer’s complex play Equus.
‘He has a real hunger not to take the easy option,’ says Grandage. ‘He’s keen to push himself in a different direction with everything he does.’
Jude jumps at Henry V
As soon as Jude Law ended his run in London and New York in the Donmar West End’s production of Hamlet, he and Michael Grandage started talking about what the actor wanted to do next.
It’s Henry V, and it marks the final production of Grandage’s first season.
It’s early days, because it won’t hit the Noel Coward’s stage until November 23, 2013, and will run until February 15, 2014.
‘We agreed we needed to do Henry relatively soon, because it’s about the youthful vigour Jude still has,’ said Grandage.
He believes Jude’s performance in Anna Christie at the Donmar ‘consolidated his reputation as one of our most serious actors’ — and I agree. My sense is that Jude will deliver a blockbuster turn as Henry V.
How to get tickets:
Ring 0844 482 5141 or visit delfontmackintosh.co.uk or michaelgrandagecompany.com