Branagh returns to stage for first time in 10 years

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The Independent Culture

Kenneth Branagh will begin his first regular stage performances for 10 years when he appears in Shakespeare's Richard III at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield tonight.

Last seen performing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Branagh's return to the boards has provoked the biggest run on tickets in the Crucible's 30-year history.

Although Richard III has been extended for an extra four days, the only hope for many theatre-goers desperate to see Branagh perform on stage will be the small number of tickets released each day.

Many who have followed Branagh's film career, which has embraced movies under his own direction as well as that of Woody Allen among others, will never have seen Branagh as a theatrical performer.

Yet the Belfast-born actor was hailed as the British stage's most promising star in decades after he performed a masterful Henry V for the Royal Shakespeare Company when he was only 23.

Branagh has been lured back to the stage by Michael Grandage, the associate director at the Crucible, who was recently named the new artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London.

Mr Grandage said he believed theatrically trained British actors such as Branagh felt an irresistible pull to theatre. "For proper actors, it's like migrating birds – eventually they have to come back to the stage," he said.

"With an American movie star, the first question you'd ask is, 'Can they act? Can they do eight shows a week and do they know how to create a stage appearance?' The exciting thing about British actors like Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh is they all started as serious stage actors. They are formidable on stage."

Branagh is by no means the first star to grace the Crucible. Joseph Fiennes, Ralph's brother, agreed to perform there in Marlowe's Edward II last year.

The benefits of having celebrities perform at the venue were enormous, Mr Grandage said. Every new member of the audience on the database was a potential purchaser of tickets for whatever came next, even if it was a more obscure production without a recognised star.