Shakespeare and Marvin Gaye celebrated with new season at Royal and Derngate

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Some of the most historic names in the history of British culture will be celebrated in a new season of plays at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.

James Dacre, artistic director of Northampton’s Royal & Derngate has announced the Spring and Summer programme for Made in Northampton 2016 in his third year at the venue.

Michael Pennington starring in King Lear

Michael Pennington starring in King Lear

As well as the world premiere of Soul, Roy Williams’ searing new play about the life and death of Marvin Gaye, a playful take on Madame Bovary, the European premiere of American sensation Peter and the Starcatcher and a revival of James Dacre’s celebrated version of A Tale of Two Cities, four major new productions will mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, including the first major revival of Peter Whelan’s play about Shakespeare’s daughter, The Herbal Bed, and a new production of King Lear, starring Michael Pennington.

Tim Crouch is collaborating with Spymonkey to stage all of Shakespeare’s death scenes in The Complete Deaths and a new version of The Tempest is presented in co-production with National Youth Theatre.

In October, Royal & Derngate’s touring achievements were recognised when it was awarded the Renee Stepham Award for Best Presentation of Touring Theatre at the 2015 UK Theatre Awards.

Over the previous 12 months, six Made in Northampton productions toured to 45 venues across 30 towns and cities. In 2014/15 more than 71,000 people saw Royal & Derngate productions on tour, and since April a further 147,887 have also seen work around the country. In this Spring/Summer 2016 season alone, work originating at the Royal & Derngate will tour to over 40 different venues.

The 2014 production of A Tale of Two Cities to be revived next year.

The 2014 production of A Tale of Two Cities to be revived next year.

Introducing the season, Dacre said: “Northampton has long been known for its exports and we’re thrilled that seven Royal & Derngate productions will tour to over 40 theatres across Britain next year in what is perhaps our most ambitious season yet.Spring begins with a festival of four productions to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. 

“We then produce four world premieres, concluding the Summer season with Roy Williams’ new play Soul about the extraordinary life and death of the musical legend Marvin Gaye, before welcoming family audiences next Christmas with the magical tale of Peter and the Starcatcher. 

“It’s worth adding that in the past 24 months, 24 new plays have been commissioned by Royal & Derngate – a wonderful tribute to Northampton’s unique artistic community.”

Beginning in February 2016, the first show in the Shakespeare season will be The Herbal Bed, Peter Whelan’s imagining of the life of William Shakespeare’s daughter. A powerful exposé of the contradiction between human desire and social convention, this moving and uplifting play provides a beautiful evocation of life in Shakespearian England, and includes the character of Shakespeare’s granddaughter who made her home in Northampton.

Directed by James Dacre in its first major revival since its acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company premiere in 1994, the production is a collaboration with English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre Kingston.

In April, two-time Olivier nominee Michael Pennington will take on Shakespeare’s greatest role as he stars in King Lear, directed by Philip Franks. With a cast of fourteen distinguished actors, this major new production will run for three weeks in the Royal, including on 23 April - the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death - before touring the UK.

In May, Tim Crouch will direct Spymonkey as they perform all 75 of Shakespeare’s onstage deaths,from the suicides in Julius Caesar to the carnage at the end of Hamlet to snakes in a basket in Antony and Cleopatra.

Solemn yet sublimely funny, The Complete Deaths is presented by Spymonkey in co-production with Royal & Derngate and Brighton Festival, and receives exclusive previews in Northampton before its world premiere in Brighton Festival 2016 and international tour. #TheCompleteDeaths

The celebration of Shakespeare will conclude in June with The Tempest in a new music-theatre version by Oscar-winning writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida), directed by Caroline Steinbeis, who has directed this year for the Royal Court, National Theatre and Manchester Royal Exchange.

Shakespeare’s magical story of growing up and growing old is performed by the next generation of talent – an ensemble of 18-25 year olds that brings together the most promising young actors from the UK and Northamptonshire, in a co-production with the National Youth Theatre.

Also at the Royal, the internationally acclaimed company Peepolykus will tackle Madame Bovary in May, in a unique comic production. Described as ‘a loving derailment’ of Flaubert’s novel, The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! will be directed by Everyman & Playhouse Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz.

The world premiere will be a co-production between Royal & Derngate Northampton, Peepolykus, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Nuffield and the Bristol Old Vic.

In a world premiere, Soul, Roy Williams’ new play about the life and tragically early death of soul legend Marvin Gaye will open at the end of May. A searing dramatic thriller that will reveal what really happened during Marvin Gaye’s haunting final days, Soul is a parable about an American family prepared to do anything to promote and protect their children.

Not just the story of Marvin Gaye, but of many a great talent crushed by stardom, this new play is written by BAFTA and Evening Standard Award-winning Roy Williams, in close collaboration with members of the family of Marvin Gaye.

Following its success in 2014, James Dacre’s celebrated production of Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, adapted by Mike Poulton, will be revived in September, ahead of a national tour. In an age of increasing popular unrest across the world, this bold dramatic adaptation, set to rousing original music by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman, is frighteningly relevant. Featuring one of the largest acting companies to ever appear on the Royal’s stage, A Tale of Two Cities will be a co-production by Royal & Derngate and Touring Consortium Theatre Company.

Next Christmas, Peter and the Starcatcher will receive its European premiere on the Royal stage. Based on the much-loved novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, this swashbuckling musical prequel to the stories of Peter Pan will see a dozen actors play over 100 characters in rising directorial star Luke Shepherd’s wildly imaginative new production.

A huge hit on Broadway in 2012 winning five Tony Awards and the Drama Desk Award for its glorious music, Peter and the Starcatcher went on to become one of the most produced plays in America last year. Following its run in Northampton, Royal & Derngate’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher will embark upon a national tour, presented by Paul Taylor-Mills.

Chief Executive of Royal & Derngate, Martin Sutherland, commented: “This announcement of our ambitious new season coincides with an exciting time at Royal & Derngate. 2015’s major upgrade of the Derngate has ensured that the auditorium maintains its much valued flexibility, while our new craft beer bar will further enhance our customers’ experience. We are working hard to build on our successes and look forward to welcoming audiences to Northampton throughout 2016.”

For more information about any of the Made in Northampton productions, visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk. Shows can be booked online or by calling the box office on 01604 624811.