Ken­neth Branagh

One of the great­est di­rec­tors and ac­tors of our time, Ken­neth Branagh last graced the West End in 2008. Now he re­turns with his own sea­son of star-stud­ded plays – and Jo Caird dis­cov­ers that it has been worth the wait

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It’s been seven years since Ken­neth Branagh’s last ap­pear­ance in the West End, when he starred in Ivanov at the Don­mar Theatre, di­rected by Michael Grandage. Now he’s back with his own sea­son of plays, di­rect­ing and star­ring along­side lead­ing ac­tors in­clud­ing Dame Judi Dench, Rob Bry­don and Lily James.

The new Ken­neth Branagh Theatre Com­pany will be res­i­dent at the Gar­rick Theatre for a year to present ‘Plays at the Gar­rick’, con­tin­u­ing a trend be­gun by Michael Grandage in 2012 when he started his own sea­son at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

It all kicks off with Shake­speare’s The Win­ter’s Tale (from 17 Oct; p. 48), in which Branagh stars op­po­site Dame Judi Dench, as well as co-di­rect­ing with the Amer­i­can theatre di­rec­tor and chore­og­ra­pher Rob Ash­ford. Branagh is well used to di­rect­ing him­self in both theatre and film and is par­tic­u­larly ac­claimed for his Shake­spearean projects, which range from an Os­car-nom­i­nated movie ver­sion of Henry V in 1989 to an in­no­va­tive adap­ta­tion of Mac­beth pre­sented at the Manch­ester In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val in 2013.

Run­ning along­side The Win­ter’s Tale is Har­lequinade (from 24 Oct; p. 46), a rarely per­formed work by 20th-cen­tury English play­wright Ter­ence Rattigan. The com­edy cen­tres on a clas­si­cal theatre com­pany’s at­tempt to stage The Win­ter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet, mak­ing it a par­tic­u­larly apt piece to in­clude in the sea­son. Zoë Wana­maker will be ap­pear­ing in Har­lequinade, as well as per­form­ing the Rattigan mono­logue Al­lon Her Own, which has never been seen in the West End.

The Ken­neth Branagh Theatre Com­pany will square the Shake­speare/Rattigan cir­cle when it presents its own pro­duc­tion of Romeo and Juliet next May. The show re­unites the leads of Branagh’s block­buster Cin­derella, with Lily James and Richard Mad­den ap­pear­ing as the Bard’s star-crossed lovers.

Also on the pro­gramme at the Gar­rick is an adap­ta­tion of the clas­sic French farce The Painkiller (from Mar 2016), in which Branagh and Rob Bry­don reprise the roles they played at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in 2011. Bry­don plays a pho­tog­ra­pher with a death wish, Branagh is a hit man in a sharp suit, and the re­sults are very funny in­deed. John Os­borne’s The En­ter­tainer, one of the most im­por­tant plays of the 20th cen­tury, com­pletes the line-up (from 20 Aug 2016), with Branagh star­ring as Archie Rice, the mu­sic-hall star of the ti­tle.

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