Rachel Kavanaugh, artistic director of Birmingham Rep, gives Terry Grimley an exclusive preview of the theatre's spring season
Birmingham Rep will join forces with the CBSO next year to present the UK premiere of an opera by Nino Rota, best known for his film music including the score for The Godfather.
In the first season programmed by new artistic director Rachel Kavanaugh it will also stage the UK premiere of the first play by the renowned South African actor John Kani and take audiences on a canal trip around the Winson Green loop for a new community play by Sarah Woods.
The season, which runs from February to July, is launched with the production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline by Cornish company Kneehigh which was recently seen at the RSC's Complete Works festival in Stratford. Then Rachel Kavanaugh's first production as artistic director will be Charlotte Jones's Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis starring Maureen Lipman, which will tour nationally after its run at the Rep.
She will also direct a new version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by Bryony Lavery, starring well-known television actress Jill Halfpenny, who has the distinction not only of having been a regular in both Coronation Street and Eastenders but also of having won the second series of Strictly Come Dancing.
The season also includes a revival of Terry Johnson's play about an imagined meeting between Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali, Hysteria.
"The season has been taking shape since I had the job, and we slotted the last thing into place three or four weeks ago," says Rachel Kavanaugh. "There's a sad moment when people come to you with more stuff and you have to say 'it's full now'.
"I'm delighted with it. I think there's a real diversity of work, and there's a large proportion of new writing there. Out of eight productions, if you include Uncle Vanya, only two-and a half have been done before. Over half of what we are producing is new. And there's a large proportion of women writers there, which is exciting."
Breaking with recent tradition, the Rep is reverting to announcing its programme in half-yearly instalments, which means that plans for the studio theatre, The Door, are announced simultaneously with the main house, rather than having to play catch-up.
Three major new productions at the Door during the spring season are new plays by Mike Kenny, Jennifer Farmer and Dennis Kelly. There are also plans for an ambitious festival of work by and for young people.
Several of the shows will be pushing the boundaries of the Rep's work. One is the Sarah Woods canal show, Box, a family production which explores the potential for attracting audiences for early-summer theatre which does not necessarily involve sitting in a darkened theatre.
Another is the Nino Rota opera The Swineheard Prince, based on Hans Christian Andersen, which the Italian composer wrote in 1924 at the astonishing age of 13.
Apart from last year's production of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale this appears to be the first collaboration between the Rep and the CBSO, who will present a production by Teatro Kismet which proved a big hit in Italy.
Another partner is the Conservatoire in Bari, where Rota, who scored a succession of Italian film classics including La Strada, La Dolce Vita, Rocco and His Brothers and Juliet of the Spirits, was director for many years.
Charlotte Jones wrote the book for the Lloyd Webber musical The Woman in White. Her Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis is an early work which Rachel Kavanaugh feels has been unjustly neglected since she achieved her big breakthrough with Humble Boy.
"It's set in Bolton, and it was commissioned by the Octagon Theatre in Bolton when she was resident writer there. An eccentric comedy would be the best way of describing it."
Perhaps more surprisingly, it seems that this season will also see the first production of a play by Terry Johnson at the Rep. Hysteria won the Olivier Award for Best New Play and the Writers Award for Best West End Play.
"Our audiences have shown they like big contemporary work from the late 20th century," says Kavanaugh. "Charlotte Jones and Terry Johnson are good writers we've not seen here before, but I hope will be appealing."
The Rep Season at a Glance
MAIN HOUSE: Feb 6-10 Kneehigh Theatre Cymbeline.
Feb 16-March 10 Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis by Charlotte Jones.
March 13-17 NITRO present The Wedding Dance, written and directed by Felix Cross.
March 23-April 14 Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Bryony Lavery
April 23-May 12 Hysteria by Terry Johnson.
May 15-9 Tamasha Theatre Company presents A Fine Balance. Based on the Booker shortlisted novel by Rohinton Mistry.
May 23-26 UK Arts International in association with Hampstead Theatre present Nothing But The Truth written by and starring John Kani
June 4-23 Box – An adventure on the canals of Birmingham by Sarah Woods.
June 28-30 Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company & City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra present The Swineherd Prince (Il Principe Porcaro) by Nino Rota.
February 1-3 Third Angel presents Presumption devised and written by Alexander Kelly, Chris Thorpe and Rachel Walton.
February 16 - 24 Graeae Theatre Company and Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company presents Whiter Than Snow by Mike Kenny.
March 1-10 Bulletproof Soul by Jennifer Farmer.
March 15 - 17 News From Nowhere present An Oak Tree by Tim Crouch.
March 23-24 Risk by John Retallack. A MacRobert production in association with Company of Angels, Y Dance and The Tron.
May 3 - 19 Taking Care of Baby by Dennis Kelly.