Entertainment & Arts

Kenneth Branagh unveils new theatre company in London

Dame Judi Dench/Sir Kenneth Branagh Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption Dame Judi will play Paulina to Sir Kenneth's Leontes in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Sir Kenneth Branagh is setting up a theatre company, with Dame Judi Dench, Rob Brydon and Lily James among stars set to perform in a season of plays.

The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company will take up residency at London's Garrick Theatre for a year in October.

The Cinderella director said he wanted "to have a creative home where you could do a programme of work, rather than just one-offs".

The season will begin with The Winter's Tale, starring Branagh and Dame Judi.

In May 2016, James will star opposite her Cinderella co-star Richard Madden - best known for his role as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones - in Romeo and Juliet, directed by Sir Kenneth.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Sir Kenneth directed Lily James in the lead role in the recently acclaimed live action film version of Cinderella

Other highlights include Harlequinade, a little-known Terence Rattigan play about a theatre company performing The Winter's Tale and Romeo and Juliet, and the behind-the-scenes dramas that ensue.

In black comedy, The Painkiller, Sir Kenneth and Rob Brydon will reprise the roles they played to acclaim at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.

And late in 2016, Sir Kenneth will take on the lead role in John Osborne's The Entertainer, a role made famous by Sir Laurence Olivier.

'Epic quality'

It is not the first time the actor-director has mirrored Sir Laurence.

Early in his career, in 1989, his performance of the lead role in Henry V drew comparison with the revered star. The film was produced by Branagh's earlier theatre company, the Renaissance Theatre Company, which he ran between 1988 and 1992.

The new company brings together many of Sir Kenneth's former collaborators, including US director Rob Ashford, who worked with him on the recent production of Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival, and composer Patrick Doyle.

"I wanted to have a place and a space, and a building, in which to create a season of work," Sir Kenneth told the BBC's arts editor, Will Gompertz.

But unlike Kevin Spacey, Sir Kenneth said did not want to take on the long-term role of artistic director, stressing that - with his parallel work in film and TV - he wanted to avoid "getting tied in or tied up for a very long period of time in a single place".

"I am here because the idea of a theatrical home is very appealing to me," he told the BBC, adding that it was something "his creative heart has been searching for for some time".

The Winter's Tale will open on 17 October 2015 until 16 January 2016.

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