The current Stratford season is a showcase for rising directors. ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
After the debacle that was ``Carrie,'' the musical adaptation of Stephen King's thriller born here last winter and buried on Broadway soon after, the Royal Shakespeare Company has gone back to basics. Terry Hands, RSC artistic head and director of ``Carrie,'' has handed over the company's Stratford operation to veteran director Adrian Noble. The longtime RSC associate came up with a season buoyed with polished Restoration comedies and ballasted by Shakespeare's histories. Mr. Noble's own mini-marathon of the Henry plays, retitled ``The Plantagenets,'' opens tonight. Even though a recent sampling finds many of the productions not quite on a par with last year's, the Stratford season is serving as a valuable showcase for a fleet of exciting new directors, most of whom are women. Indeed, the most striking, although by no means wholly successful, productions seen by this reviewer were those of this new generation of directors. Nick Hytner, who spends as much time in opera houses as he does in theaters, has curbed Shakespeare's romantic excesses to come up with a lean and mean version of ``The Tempest.'' It stars John Wood, making his much acclaimed return to classical theater after a ten-year absence. Deborah Warner, who debuted at the RSC last year with a stunningly visceral ``Titus Andronicus,'' is back with a vivified ``King John.''Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile, Garry Hynes, co-founder of Ireland's Druid Theatre and now on loan to the RSC, stretches her wings with a darkly acerbic production of George Etherege's 17th-century comedy of manners, ``The Man of Mode.'' Di Trevis and Sarah Pia Anderson, both RSC regulars, have turned in less well-received productions (unseen by this reviewer) of ``Much Ado About Nothing'' and ``Across Oka,'' a new drama by Robert Holman. Other Stratford offerings include a new ``Macbeth,'' revivals of George Farquhar's ``The Constant Couple,'' and William Wycherley's ``The Plain Dealer.''
A taut `King John'
Deborah Warner, who found a sinewy tragic line amid the bloody excesses of ``Titus Andronicus,'' has now exposed the beating heart of the otherwise wooden ``King John.'' She has wound the play, one of Shakespeare's creakier and wordier histories, like a watch spring. At the center is a commanding performance by Nicholas Woodeson in the title role. Last seen as Bessmertny in the Western premi`ere of the Soviet Chernobyl drama, ``Sarcophagus,'' Woodeson is a Napoleonic King John. Diminutive in stature, gargantuan in ambition and deceit, his King John pulsates with new verve.
In the intimate confines of the RSC's Other Place stage, hemmed in by Ms. Warner's thicket of ladders used as a rampart and barricade, one can track the concentration in the actor's face; this King John kills people with his eyes and lets his sotto voce lines, flicking out like a whip, do the rest. Other performances of note: Cherry Morris and Susan Engel as the two battling Queen Mothers, Lyndon Davies, who played the young Michael Gambon in the TV series ``The Singing Detective,'' is achingly innocent as the young Arthur, the pawn ground between the gears of warring regimes.
John Wood in `The Tempest'