David Tennant is to return to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Richard II, five years after audiences and critics hailed his performance as Hamlet.
The production headed by the former Doctor Who star leads off a winter season at the RSC that includes the world premiere of the stage adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.
The announcement was Gregory Doran’s first after taking over as artistic director of the RSC from Michael Boyd last year.
The production of Richard II, which Doran will direct, will run at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon in October.
Doran said the part would be a “challenge” for Tennant. “Of course Hamlet was a challenge, it’s the Everest,” he said: “Richard II is written entirely in verse. He has no problem with verse. He breathes it, he makes it sound as if it is completely effortless.”
The artistic director said the principal challenge for Tennant’s Richard II will be “the sense of the man’s volatility, fragility; that psychology is more alien to David’s character”
The production will then transfer to London’s Barbican Theatre in December. The Barbican was the company’s home in the capital for 20 years before it left in 2002. “They are welcoming of our return,” Doran said. “We are different to 10 years ago, so is the Barbican.”
The Stratford company is once again looking for a permanent residence in London, and hopes to be in situ by 2016. Doran said: “Every option is back on the table.” Although so far there have been no discussions about returning to the Barbican.
“I have no qualms about how it may look if we did discuss that. They may not want us anyway. It is a two way conversation after all,” Doran said.
Mantel’s Booker prize winning novels, which follow the rise of Thomas Cromwell as an adviser to King Henry VIII, will play at the RSC’s Swan Theatre next January. The author is even to add in material she left out of the books. “What Hilary Mantel does is put the intimate into the context of the epic. She tells it from the side-lines and interior world of those people,” Doran said.
When asked why the RSC had not waited until Mantel’s publication of the final part of the trilogy, Doran said: “It was too good a story, I just wanted to get in there. If it proves to be terrific maybe we’ll revive it as a trilogy.” He has an actor in mind for Cromwell, but was not giving anything away yesterday.
Doran said the winter programme “acts as a prologue to a wider plan, stretching forward over the next five years” in which he wants to worth through Shakespeare’s canon. This includes 2014, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and followed two years later by the 400th anniversary of his death.
“It’s great to be taking the reins of this company that I’ve been around for the past 25 years,” Doran said. “I have been given on a plate a three year plan, which I have expanded into a five year plan.”
The RSC has turned down an approach of becoming part of a wider celebration involving The Globe, the National Theatre, the British Library and the British Museum in 2016.