Theatre: Home and away

The Royal Court and the Almeida are planning new plays. David Benedict picks the front runners
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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEK, the Royal Court announced an impressive slate of plays to reopen the much-delayed rebuild of its much-loved Sloane Square home.

The new era begins with Ian Rickson's production of Dublin Carol, by the Irish wunderkind Conor McPherson. Their last show together, The Weir, continues to confound expectations with its West End transfer which now boasts its third cast. This unfashionably gentle, atmospheric tale of people telling ghost stories in a rural pub is now the Court's most successful production, having even proved resilient on Broadway where it's run has once again been extended.

Later in the year, the Court will premiere works by Jim Cartwright, Kia Corthron and Gary Mitchell. Best of all are new plays by Martin Crimp - a writer lamentably still better known for his translations of other people's work, notably The Misanthrope and The Triumph of Love - and Christopher Shinn, whose beautifully composed Four was the writing debut of 1998.

While the opening of this venture will steal the post-millennial arts headlines (public previews begin on 7 January), it will face stiff competition from the Almeida which today launches an entire year's programme.

Jonathan Kent will once again direct Ralph Fiennes, this time in twin productions of Coriolanus and Richard II in the former Gainsborough Studios where Hitchcock shot most of his British films. However, the Islington theatre is moving away from its reputation for film stars slumming it on theatre salaries in smart revivals. Today's announcement is expected to include a startling number of new plays from writers as diverse as Edna O'Brien, Nicholas Wright and Arthur Miller, plus a trilogy of one- act plays by Neil LaBute, best-known for his extraordinarily unsentimental, caustically funny films In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbours.

The real Almeida coup, however, is the world premiere of Harold Pinter's Celebration. The playwright himself will direct a cast including Lindsay Duncan, who starred in his last play Ashes to Ashes at the Court in 1996 and off-Broadway earlier this year.