The Old Vic is to get even older this year, with two of the most celebrated lovers penned by Shakespeare to be played by acting “titans” who are twice the usual age the characters are played.
Kevin Spacey, the theatre’s artistic director, announced the theatre’s 2013 programme yesterday, which included a production of Much Ado about Nothing with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones playing the acid-tongued lovers Beatrice and Benedick.
The roles are traditionally played by actors in their 30s and 40s. Yet Redgrave, who made her debut on the London stage in 1958, turns 76 next month and Earl Jones, whose Broadway bow was three years earlier, is 81.
Spacey told The Independent there would be no issue with older actors playing the squabbling lovers. “I think Shakespeare is extraordinarily elastic. For me it’s about interpretation, seeing how a certain actor performs a certain kind of role”
He continued: “Much Ado covers love, betrayal and friendship, all themes that mean a lot to those who are older. This will be an exciting interpretation.”
The production will reunite the pair who played opposite each other in last year’s West End production of Driving Miss Daisy, and marks the first time they have played the characters.
It was “extraordinary” to have brought Redgrave to the Old Vic, Spacey said, adding that with Earl Jones, “it is like two titans coming together but they are company people at heart.”
Redgrave’s birth was actually announced from the Old Vic stage in 1937 by Laurence Olivier, who was playing Hamlet to her father Michael’s Laertes.
The Mississippi-born Earl Jones is familiar to UK audiences, especially from his voice work as Darth Vader in the Star Wars films and Mufasa in The Lion King. Spacey said: “He is at the peak of his powers, and is very robust and energetic; he’s having the time of his life.”
Mark Rylance, who is currently starring in the West End in the productions of Richard III and Twelfth Night, alongside Stephen Fry, will direct. “He is one of the most extraordinary actor-managers ever,” Spacey said.
This follows the Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Tender Thing, which played Romeo and Juliet with older actors.
Other highlights of the Old Vic season include Kim Cattrall in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth and a new production of The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan.
September will mark Spacey’s 10th anniversary as artistic director. “We are running at a good speed. If we weren’t I could not have spent the past six months filming House of Cards in Baltimore.”
His tenure finishes in 2015. “I have to secure the financial future of the Old Vic and renovate the building. There is still a lot to do,” he said.