Knight of stage and screen Kenneth Branagh promises ‘theatrical fireworks’ in his update of The Browning Version which he hopes will tempt audiences back to the theatre.
He has changed the race and or gender of key characters in Terence Rattigan’s most famous work as a ‘way of keeping the 70-year-old play alive’. The star wants to create ‘theatrical fireworks’ with the Kenneth Branagh Company’s new production of Rattigan’s 1948 masterpiece.
The play is set on the last day at school of Andrew Crocker-Harris (Branagh), a brilliant but unpopular public school classics teacher who is married to unfaithful Millie (Lolita Chakrabarti), which is set to run at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for three weeks from August 5.
Chakrabarti, who was made an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours last week for her playwriting (she won awards for Red Velvet and her adaptation of The Life Of Pi) and acting (she has three new drama series in various stages of production), said the world has changed since Rattigan wrote The Browning Version, ‘but in the last year and a half, exponentially’.
She laughed and added: ‘We’ve become aware of women! Fifty-one per cent of the population — we’ve become aware of them!’ It’s important, she said, to reflect these shifts in gender and race otherwise these beautiful, classic plays ‘become museum pieces’. The Riverside will sell tickets on a socially-distanced basis, though if the Government sticks to its promise of axing such restrictions on July 19 more seats will be made available.
The other key role is that of a pupil named Taplow, who in an act of unexpected kindness gives Crocker-Harris a parting gift — a second-hand copy of Robert Browning’s translation of Greek tragedy Agamemnon.
In Rattigan’s play the character is John Taplow, but Branagh has cast actress Kemi Awoderu in the role. She is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, as are all the company. The show’s profits will go to the drama school, of which Branagh is president, for its Stage Critical fundraising campaign. Twenty per cent of seats will be £25 or under.
Another role, that of headmaster Dr Frobisher, becomes a headmistress and will be played by Wendy Kweh. Victor Alli, Sarah Eve and Joseph Kloska are also in the cast.
Branagh said that the play ‘appears to be very English, tidy, polite and well-behaved’, but it simmers underneath with ‘romantic, sexual energy’.
He added that after lockdown there is a need ‘to go and see plays that are doing something you can’t experience anywhere else. We are immensely grateful for what the streaming services and everything have done for us, but now I think that theatre needs to do things that are unique.’
‘We have to get going again,’ Branagh said with urgency. ‘There are livelihoods at stake.’
During lockdown Branagh shot a new film called Belfast (with Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench). It’s due out November 12. His own version of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile, which he directed and stars in, has had a rocky voyage to cinemas because of scandals involving its star Armie Hammer, but will be released on Feb 11.
It will be interesting to see Branagh (left) as Boris Johnson in Sky mini-series This Sceptred Isle, also next year, even though I’ve stomached more than enough of the real one!
RADA members can buy tickets today for The Browning Version. General sales from June 21, via www.branagh-theatre.com
Source: Daily Mail