The National Theatre in London is set to reopen in June with a new version of Dylan Thomas’s “play for voices” Under Milk Wood, starring Michael Sheen and Siân Phillips. The production, announced on Thursday, will be performed in-the-round in the Olivier theatre, which was reconfigured last year to accommodate socially distanced audiences for Death of England: Delroy and the panto Dick Whittington.
The National will also reopen its smaller stage, the Dorfman theatre, for the first time since the pandemic caused theatres to close last March. It will present Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the Japanese film After Life, a metaphysical comedy directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda that was released in 1999. The Olivier theatre will hold a capacity of approximately 500 and the Dorfman will be capped at audiences of 120.
Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, said it had been an “incredibly difficult year” for the industry but that he looked forward with “cautious optimism” to welcoming back larger audiences soon. He acknowledged that the National’s popular lockdown streams had reached millions around the world but added that “the magic of live theatre is what we can now begin to look towards: to creating work with our freelance artists and colleagues, to supporting young people’s creativity, and to bringing joy to audiences and communities through imaginative and inspiring live performance”.
It is almost 90 years since the teenage Dylan Thomas began to sketch out initial ideas for Under Milk Wood, set in the cheekily named Welsh seaside village of Llareggub. It had its first stage productions in 1953 and, following Thomas’s death, was broadcast on the radio a year later, featuring Richard Burton. The production in the Olivier theatre, which opens on 16 June, will have additional material by Siân Owen and be directed by Lyndsey Turner. Sheen’s previous productions at the National include Look Back in Anger as Jimmy Porter, another role made famous by Burton.
The Dorfman theatre will open two weeks earlier than the Olivier for After Life, a co-production with Headlong theatre company that will be directed by Jeremy Herrin with a concept by Herrin, Thorne and designer Bunny Christie. Both productions will run until 24 July.
Further information on the return of Death of England: Delroy, which closed on its official opening night in November, and on the previously announced revival of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, will be announced at a later date.