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London Spotlight: March 2006

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Jeremy Irons
Just as in New York, a star name on a marquee is a significant draw in London. So anyone looking to see a famous actor -- who's also an outstanding stage performer -- will want to know about Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Sandor Marai's novel Embers, opening this month at the Duke of York's. It's prime attraction is Tony Award winner Jeremy Irons, who unfortunately spends more time making movies than he does treading the boards either here or in New York. This two-character play about war and friendship is directed by Michael Blakemore, the only person living who's won two Tonys for directing a play (Copenhagen) and a musical (Kiss Me Kate in the same year.

The English Touring Theatre's revival of Alan Bennett's remarkable play, The Old Country can be seen for a week at the Richmond Theatre this month before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios. While the three top-lined thespians aren't as well-known nationally as Irons, they're names to reckon with on these shores: Timothy West, Simon Williams, and Jean Marsh are featured in this play about a couple visiting an old friend who's moved to an unnamed foreign land. The plot revelations are too delectable to reveal, buts it's safe to say the narrative reflects the interest in patriotism that Bennett also explored in his teleplay, An Englishman Abroad.

Samuel Beckett was born April 13, 1906, and in honor of his 100th birthday, the Barbican administrators have joined with Dublin's Gate Theatre to present a Beckett Centenary Festival, starting this month. Everything Beckett will be examined during this celebration. On stage, the master's Rockaby and Ohio Impromptu play on a bill March 21- 28 . Another pair of one-acts, Footfalls and Come and Go, opens March 30 for a week. For patrons who can't get enough of their man, the organizers have seen to it there will be filmed versions of the work and other fare available.

Of more than passing interest this month are a handful of other items. Jez Butterworth's newest work, The Winterling, is due at the Royal Court, helmed by departing artistic director Ian Rickson. Tennessee Williams's unusual comedy, Period of Adjustment bows at the Almeida, directed by Howard Davies, and featuring a cast that includes Jared Harris. At the National, three short plays -- presented in a changing bill of two -- about teenagers will be unveiled. The playwrights are Mark Ravenhill, Enda Walsh and Deborah Gearing, and the cast of new faces will be guided by Anna Mackmin. (All tickets for patrons under 18 are priced at £10.) Meanwhile, The Gate Theatre's interpretation of August Strindberg's Great Highway graces their Notting Hill stage.

Last but hardly least is the continuation through March 12 of the Meunier Chocolate Factory's superlative renewed look at the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Sunday in the Park With George. The two-act musical -- the first act of which is perfect -- moves to the West End in May; but Anna-Jane Casey, who's superb as Dot, will not travel with it. Daniel Evans, also superb, will continue to play the compulsive Georges Seurat.

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