BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Helen Mirren teams up with Mark Strong for a modern-day retelling of Oedipus

Mark Strong and Helen Mirren are to star together in a modern-day reinterpretation of the tragedy of Oedipus — the story of a man who unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother.

The two stars will lead Robert Icke's new version of Sophocles' classic into the West End next year, followed by a run on Broadway.

Icke and Strong, who worked together in David Hare's play The Red Barn at the National Theatre four years ago, joined forces with producer Sonia Friedman to persuade Mirren to come aboard.

Mark Strong

Helen Mirren

Mark Strong and Helen Mirren, pictured above, are to star together in a modern-day reinterpretation of the tragedy of Oedipus — the story of a man who unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother

She and Strong — plus a company of other actors — held a reading of the play in London two weeks ago. Icke told me there was 'great' chemistry between his two leads.

'She's a really attractive, very lively, vivacious older lady,' Icke said of the Oscar and Olivier award-winning actress, who was last on stage as the Queen in Peter Morgan's The Audience.

Oedipus is turning into a labour of love for Icke. He directed a Dutch version at Ivo van Hove's Internationaal Theater Amsterdam earlier this year, which then went to the Edinburgh Festival (where it was performed with English surtitles). 

He was revising that adaptation — and turning it into English — when the new project began to gain momentum.

When I reached Sonia Friedman last night, she confirmed that Icke's re-imagined piece, with Oedipus as a modern-day politician, will open in the latter part of next year, with a theatre and dates yet to be determined. 

Icke and Strong, who worked together in David Hare's play The Red Barn at the National Theatre four years ago, joined forces with producer Sonia Friedman (above) to persuade Mirren to come aboard

Icke and Strong, who worked together in David Hare's play The Red Barn at the National Theatre four years ago, joined forces with producer Sonia Friedman (above) to persuade Mirren to come aboard

We meet Oedipus (Strong), Jocasta (Mirren) and their four children on the night of a major election, in an unspecified country. 'It's not a British election,' Icke told me.

Friedman says she's honoured to be working with 'these three extraordinary artistes' on Icke's 'brilliant and illuminating new version' of the tragedy.

When I interviewed Mirren in September, for the Sky drama Catherine The Great, I asked her about doing more theatre. She teased me, saying there was 'something' she was discussing, but: 'You'll have to find out what it is.'

A bit of sleuthing revealed that Strong and Icke had been talking, on and off, for several years about working together again after The Red Barn. 

I heard about Strong demanding he be sent Icke's Oedipus, though at that point there wasn't a script in English. 

A rough version was dispatched to him, and the actor quickly signed on to do it. Soon after, the dots started joining, leading me to Mirren.

Last night, she said via email from the U.S. that she sees 'this powerful new version' of Oedipus as 'a wonderful opportunity' for her to collaborate with Friedman, Icke and Strong, whose work she has 'long admired'.

Well hello! Imelda's looking swell as she agrees to do Dolly

Feel the room swayin'? That's because Imelda Staunton will play the meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! in the West End next summer.

In a theatrical reunion that could have been arranged by Dolly herself, the beloved Ms Staunton will work once more with director Dominic Cooke.

Imelda Staunton will play the meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! in the West End next summer

Imelda Staunton will play the meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! in the West End next summer

They had teamed up on an acclaimed revival of the musical Follies at the National Theatre three years ago and wanted to work together again, but hadn't found the right piece. Till now.

The director told me he'd been 'daydreaming on the Tube for years' about doing Jerry Herman's musical, adapted from Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker, about a widow who decides to match herself with shopkeeper (and noted half-a-millionaire) Horace Vandergelder.

Coincidentally, producer Michael Harrison and his business partner David Ian had, completely separately, tried to persuade Staunton to do Dolly after they worked together on Gypsy (when the musical transferred from Chichester to the Savoy Theatre). At that point, though, she was busy working on television and film projects.

Once the director and producers realised they were chasing the same proposal, they joined forces to get the actress back where (they felt) she belonged: playing Dolly. And eventually, she agreed.

Cooke observed that Hello, Dolly! had a light side, 'glitz, fun, comedy and great numbers'. But it also possessed a 'much more serious heart . . . which is about people coming back to life after suffering loss. It's about a woman going back out into the world,' the director added.

He caught Staunton as Mamma Rose in Gypsy and thought it one of the best performances he'd ever seen on stage.

'People make these weird dividing lines between musical theatre acting and straight theatre acting, and I just don't see those lines,' he said. 'A great performance is a great performance.'

He said Imelda possessed superb dramatic and musical theatre skills.

'She's in a very fertile period creatively,' he declared. A fact borne out by my world exclusive on page three of this paper about Staunton being cast to play Elizabeth in series five and six of the Netflix smash The Crown, once Olivia Colman has completed her reign at the end of season four.

Cooke also told me he's going to bring in the distinguished actress Jenna Russell to play Irene Molloy, the widow milliner looking for a new love. Cooke and Russell are old friends, having worked together at the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

The award-winning Rae Smith will create costumes and sets. Cooke said there will definitely be a staircase for Dolly to descend when she arrives at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant and is serenaded by the Maitre'd and the waiters, who tell her she's 'lookin' swell'.

Musical supervisor Nicholas Skilbeck and choreographer Bill Deamer, who collaborated with Cooke on Follies at the NT, will reunite for Hello, Dolly! which will have a 30-week season at the Adelphi Theatre from August 11, 2020.

By the way, this production shouldn't be confused with the celebrated version starring Bette Midler and produced by Scott Rudin on Broadway a couple of seasons back. That is not high-kicking its way to these shores.

But when Rudin decided two years ago not to hold on to the London rights, Harrison and Ian snapped them up.

In fact, when the pair began wooing Staunton for Dolly, the rights weren't even available. But they moved fast when all the stars aligned.

'We just wanted to create something that was new for Imelda, that was her interpretation, rather than her stepping into someone else's feather boa,' Harrison said.

He confirmed that Staunton had spoken to Jerry Herman about the role and the songs. And Herman has let it be known that he's 'thrilled' the British actress is playing the part that has been bringing him regular royalties for nearly six decades.

At the moment, there are no plans for the season at the Adelphi to extend beyond 30 weeks.

Harrison has told Staunton he's going to stage Dolly only in the West End with her (although it's likely the show will tour the UK regions with another star).

Priority tickets can be purchased from today. Please check HelloDollyLDN.com for details about general sales. 

Tales of the new Riverside 

The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London, re-opened its doors on Monday after being closed for five years for extensive redevelopment.

I arrived early, and walked along the Thames footpath that's on its doorstep. Then I sat in the café, and observed life on the river. It's a first-class view.

William Burdett-Coutts, the Riverside's artistic director, said that the building, pre-2014, didn't boast such direct Thames views. 

Burdett-Coutts and Emily Dobbs (who will produce plays in the Riverside's main auditorium), pictured, gave me a guided tour of the fully equipped TV studio, which will be rented out to production companies

Burdett-Coutts and Emily Dobbs (who will produce plays in the Riverside's main auditorium), pictured, gave me a guided tour of the fully equipped TV studio, which will be rented out to production companies

He calls the area 'the North Bank', for 'obvious reasons'. . . because the arts centre is on the north side of the Thames. North Bank has a cool vibe to it.

Something about the water has a calming effect — I have rarely felt so relaxed entering an artistic establishment.

Burdett-Coutts and Emily Dobbs (who will produce plays in the Riverside's main auditorium), pictured, gave me a guided tour of the fully equipped TV studio, which will be rented out to production companies.

Dobbs said they would be able to film productions and then stream them into cinemas.

There are two big screens — one with 48 seats, the other with 208 — a studio theatre and a larger house for the full-scale productions Dobbs will oversee. 

Her season of plays will start later next year, once the main auditorium is complete.

However performances will begin in the smaller studio on January 21, with a stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's film Persona.

There's also a swanky-looking restaurant that's already open. As I was leaving, paintings by local artists were being delivered, to be displayed in the vast foyer space.

Director Greta Gerwig chose wisely when she picked Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan to play rival sisters Amy and Jo March in her film Little Women

Director Greta Gerwig chose wisely when she picked Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan to play rival sisters Amy and Jo March in her film Little Women

Florence is a force

Director Greta Gerwig chose wisely when she picked Florence Pugh (right) and Saoirse Ronan to play rival sisters Amy and Jo March in her film Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott's novel. 

The girls go head-to-head in the movie, which opens here on Boxing Day. 

And I'm told Gerwig rejected any actress auditioning to be Amy, the 'baby' of the family, who came across as shy. 

Now, in the hands of Pugh and Ronan, Amy and Jo are formidable, and sublime. 

Critics are allowed to think whatever the heck they want. 

But I wonder if some missed the point of &Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre, which features a star-making performance by Miriam-Teak Lee and the pop songs of chart master Max Martin. 

I saw an early preview, when it was still being put together by director Luke Sheppard, and it was full of paying customers having a ball. 

Sheppard and his team have vastly improved it since then. Moments will make you cringe, to be sure. But I left with a smile on my face. 

Watch out for …

Jessica Hynes, star of W1A and Spaced, who will play Harper, the kind of 'mother' role in Caryl Churchill's superb drama Far Away, which is being revived at the Donmar Warehouse

Jessica Hynes, star of W1A and Spaced, who will play Harper, the kind of 'mother' role in Caryl Churchill's superb drama Far Away, which is being revived at the Donmar Warehouse

Jessica Hynes (right), star of W1A and Spaced, who will play Harper, the kind of 'mother' role in Caryl Churchill's superb drama Far Away, which is being revived at the Donmar Warehouse by director Lyndsey Turner from February 6.

Anna Russell-Martin, Natalie Klamar and Amaka Okafor, who will play Ibsen's Nora Helmer in three distinct time-frames — the fight for women's suffrage, the 1960s, and present day — in Nora: A Doll's House, written by Stef Smith and directed by Elizabeth Freestone. 

A Citizen's Theatre and Young Vic co-production, it will run at the Young Vic from February 6. 

Luke Norris (Dr Dwight Enys in Poldark) will also appear in the play.

Sam Tutty, Lucy Anderson, Rebecca McKinnis, Lauren Ward, Doug Colling, Rupert Young, Jack Loxton and Nicole Raquel Dennis, who have settled magnificently into their roles in the new musical Dear Evan Hansen at the Noel Coward Theatre. 

The show, about a lonely, anxious student, is set in America. But it could be anywhere — anxiety is not limited to the U.S.

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