Cats and bogs

Another political drama in the West End? It never rains but it pours in theatreland, it seems
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The Independent Culture

When Dominic Cooke directs Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats in the West End, it will be a meeting of two exciting young talents. And then there's a cast that includes such luminaries as Holly Hunter, Gordon MacDonald, Sorcha Cusack and Brid Brennan.

When Dominic Cooke directs Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats in the West End, it will be a meeting of two exciting young talents. And then there's a cast that includes such luminaries as Holly Hunter, Gordon MacDonald, Sorcha Cusack and Brid Brennan.

Cooke has been involved with the development of new talent in British theatre for more than a decade, first through his role as associate director at the Royal Court, and now as associate director at the RSC. He feels strongly that the strength of British theatre lies in the relationships between writers and directors. "We have a system of writer-based theatre here. In Europe, the director is seen very much as the auteur, with the writer just another tool at his disposal." Cooke sees the lack of good European playwrights as a direct consequence of such a set up.

So Cooke couldn't resist the opportunity of working with Carr ( Portia Coughlan, The Mai). "She is one of the best playwrights of her generation and her subject matter is fascinating. She deals with difficult subjects, yet is able to inject humour into the play. I also love the fusion of classic Greek myth with realism. There have been a number of adaptations of Greek classics recently, and it's interesting that these stories still have lessons for us today."

"The issue of ownership of land and territory which By the Bog of Cats addresses is a primal thing, and of course, has wider implications in the world today. People are arguing over who owns what and who runs what, so it's an issue that's more pertinent now than ever."

An Oscar-winning actress, Hunter makes her West End debut playing Hester Swane, an Irish Gypsy with a mysterious connection to the land. Having been rejected by the father of her child, she sets out to exact revenge as her tormented past is revealed to the audience.

Certainly, a Hollywood star will pull in the punters, but Cooke himself believes in appropriate rather than celebrity casting. "Holly has worked in theatre before, including a production of this play. I'm sceptical about celebrity casting when it's done for the wrong reasons; it has to be for the benefit of the production. But Holly is perfect for the part, she's been amazing in rehearsals, she seems born to play it."

Cooke has also been a vocal advocate of the re-politicising of the stage and welcomes current the trend for political drama, most notably Guantanamo Bay by Victoria Brittain, and David Hare's Stuff Happens.

"I think one of the things that September 11 did was make people aware that things that happen across the world effect them - that what we do in the Middle East can come home to us - and I think we all played a tacit role in that. People are realising that being quiet isn't being apolitical, it's actually making a choice to agree."

"I've left theatres recently and it has been great. I've heard people fiercely debating the issues they have been con-fronted with. I'm sure this production will have people leaving the theatre doing the same thing, which is what good theatre is meant to do."

'By the Bog of Cats', Wyndhams Theatre, London WC2 (0870 060 6633) previews from tomorrow; opens 1 Dec

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