Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne

Sir Kenneth Branagh has gone from treading the boards of the West End to being an internationally acclaimed director, in demand in Hollywood after blockbuster hits like Cinderella and Thor.

This is why he says his agents are a little upset that he is to return to the West End for the first time in seven years as both director and star in a year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre.

More than three decades after his West End debut, the actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne – with co-stars including Dame Judi Dench and Rob Brydon.

“It’s exciting to come back to the West End; it has been very good to me,” Sir Kenneth told The Independent.

“A creative and artistic home is what I’ve been looking for in the theatre. We have found it at here.”

Sir Kenneth – who was last seen on stage in central London in Chekhov’s Ivanov in 2008 – joked his agents “would look very sad” at the news that he would be unable to commit to a major film project during the year. And no wonder. His adaptation of Cinderella has so far taken more than $430m (£288m) worldwide.

“I accepted that they would say: ‘Why, and why now?’ to which I would say: ’Why not?’” He said: “I come from the theatre, my bones are in the theatre; it’s as natural as breathing to want to be in the theatre.” Yet he added the one-year residency gave him flexibility. “I want to carry on making films and television – that’s just part of who I am.”

He has been filming the final episodes of detective drama Wallander and is in talks with Martin Scorsese over a film of Macbeth inspired by his 2013 production in Manchester. At the Garrick, Sir Kenneth will star alongside Dame Judi in The Winter’s Tale, which he will co-direct. “Having Judi Dench, a great Shakespearean actress, is a great reason to do anything,” he said. “Reuniting with her on a play I’m very passionate about was the beginning of it. That was the creative energy at the heart of the idea.” The pair have a 30-year relationship in the theatre and last worked together in a production of Coriolanus in 1992.From that a full season began to emerge, including the idea to put on John Osborne’s The Entertainer, with Sir Kenneth as Archie Rice. He will also direct Richard Madden and Lily James, the stars of Cinderella, in Romeo and Juliet and co-direct and perform in “neglected gem” Harlequinade by Terence Rattigan. The play has not been performed in a major venue in London for 40 years and is about a theatre company staging The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet.

The season will be rounded out by the London debut of French farce The Painkiller, which will star Sir Kenneth opposite Brydon.

The Plays at the Garrick series marks the first season of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company. Sir Kenneth will be supported by Rob Ashford and Christopher Oram, both Olivier award winners, and director Sean Foley.

Sir Kenneth hopes there will be more seasons – if the first proves a success – which will include new work and even a musical. He said: “I’m interested in creating new work. In the first instance, the audience decides if they’re interested in any of those things.”

Starry season: Plays to come

The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy will be re-imagined by Sir Kenneth. He is co-directing and playing Leontes. Dame Judi Dench will play Paulina.

Harlequinade: This little-performed Terence Rattigan play follows the intrigues and dalliances of theatre company members as they try and stage The Winter’s Tale and Rome and Juliet.

The Painkiller: Sir Kenneth and Rob Brydon reprise the roles they took on at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in the French farce about two men in adjoining hotel rooms; one is a killer and one wants to die.

Romeo and Juliet: Richard Madden and Lily James, the stars of Sir Kenneth’s Cinderella, will reunite to play the star-crossed lovers.

The Entertainer: John Osborne’s 1957 play about a fading music hall performer will star Sir Kenneth as  Archie Rice.

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