Scott Thomas ready to fly in for Chekhov's 'Seagull'

Louise Jury,Arts Correspondent
Tuesday 01 August 2006 00:00 BST

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov is a classical staple, guaranteed to attract the finest theatrical stars. Now Kristin Scott Thomas becomes the latest actress to tread the boards as Arkadina, in a production at the Royal Court in January.

Juliet Stevenson is still playing that same role at the National Theatre just as Judi Dench did a decade ago.

The casting of Scott Thomas', announced yesterday, marks her third foray on to the London stage in as many years. It will be the second stage version of a Chekhov play for the star of films such as The English Patient and The Horse Whisperer.

Her co-star in the new version by Christopher Hampton, author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, will be Mackenzie Crook, who made his name in The Office before acting in Pirates of the Caribbean and appearing on the West End in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Christian Slater.

Announcing the line-up yesterday, Ian Rickson, the Royal Court's artistic director, said it was fantastic to have such a cast for his final production in charge of the agenda-setting venue. He said: "Kristin is a romantic, intelligent and witty actress who is ideal for the part."

The production opens in January, in effect bringing to a close the 50th anniversary celebrations of the theatre whose opening season in 1956 included Look Back In Anger, the groundbreaking John Osborne drama.

Despite the Royal Court's reputation for innovative new work, the production will be hard pressed to outdo the current National Theatre show for radicalism. There, the director Katie Mitchell, working with the playwright Martin Crimp, has stripped out many of the soliloquies and asides to produce a pared-down version largely - though not universally - admired by the critics.

Stevenson, a regular on British stages, was described as "in her element" by The Sunday Times though others had doubts. "The actressy self-absorption and innate tactlessness are beautifully rendered, but she cuts too cosy a figure," ruled the Daily Telegraph.

Scott Thomas has made her name in film but her stage appearances have been admired. She was nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance as Masha in Checkhov's Three Sisters in 2003.

The 46-year-old recently split from her French husband and had said she was keen to spend more time in her native Britain.

In addition to its new star signing, the Royal Court confirmed that Harold Pinter was still on course to appear in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape in October.

Pinter, 75, was announced as part of the Court's anniversary programme last October but nearly died not long afterwards with a mysterious skin condition at about the same time as he won the Nobel Prize for literature. But, the playwright and actor was determined to appear and has made a remarkable recovery. He, too, will be directed by Rickson.

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