AN ACTOR who once stood in for Doctor Who star David Tennant at just three hours’
AN ACTOR who once stood in for Doctor Who star David Tennant at just three hours’ notice is among the stars of a production of Watership Down opening at the Watermill in Bagnor on Thursday.
The year was 2008 and Edward Bennett was understudying for Tennant in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet.
The play had just transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End following a sold-out run in Stratford-upon-Avon when Tennant suffered a slipped disc in his back that required surgery.
With just three hours’ notice, Bennett stepped into the breach on the opening night and gave a word-perfect performance that won him a standing ovation.
Since then he has gone on to appear in the National Theatre tour of One Man, Two Guvnors and Othello at the Donmar Warehouse, while his film credits include Skyfall and War Horse.
His next challenge will see him portraying Holly and General Woundwort in award-winning playwright Rona Munro’s adaptation of Richard Adams’s classic 1972 novel.
Joining Edward in the cast are fellow War Horse stars James Backway as Hazel, Jess Murphy as Blackavar, and Scarlet Wilderink as Hyzenthlay.
Adam Penfold directs and other key cast members include Richard James-Neale as Bigwig and Alexander Morris as Fiver.
The Watermill’s artistic director Paul Hart said: “This stirring tale of courage and survival has become one of the best loved adventures of all time, selling over 50 million copies worldwide, and it’s exciting to be staging it at the Watermill right in the heart of the countryside and just a few miles from the North Wessex Downs that first inspired Richard Adams’s epic, timeless story.”
Mr Hart, who succeeded Hedda Beeby in October last year, has so far overseen productions of Romeo and Juliet, One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, and Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories as part of his inaugural spring/summer season.
On taking up the post, he said: “The programme represents just a taste of the broad scope of work I hope to present to audiences over time — a mixture of classics, new writing, great rediscoveries and new adaptations.
“The Watermill has always been about supporting and developing artists and performers — myself included as a young director — so I’m particularly excited to introduce audiences to the next generation of young talent.”
Originally hailing from Kent, Mr Hart’s time in London saw him working with the likes of the National Theatre, the National Youth Theatre, Propeller and the Donmar Warehouse.
With the Watermill renowned as one of the UK’s most successful regional producing theatres, Mr Hart says his ambition is to put the theatre on the map for original works that can be adapted for venues across the country.
“My love affair with the Watermill began when I was at college,” he said. “I came to see musicals and Shakespeare here and discovered the actor/musician style for which the theatre is known. I worked as an assistant director here for Propeller, redirecting major touring productions for this very specific space in an afternoon.
“I got to know its potential and limitations pretty quickly — we quickly discovered that Richard III would be a bit of squeeze, when we demolished part of the theatre on our first preview!
“The thing I want to make sure is that it remains a theatre for all. We are going to create brilliant work here that I hope will be recognised on a national and international level, and make sure that the community surrounding it has a strong influence in shaping the way that happens.”
Looking further ahead, he said: “I can guarantee that our work will always be innovative. Here at the Watermill we can do something that no other theatre in the UK can — we have a unique setting and surroundings and a reputation for original work, which I intend to nurture.
“I think it’s really important for the audience here to have a varied diet of theatre. I want to bring completely new writing to the theatre, as well as exciting adaptations. You’re going to see things that you never thought could happen in this small space.”
He added: “I’m also passionate about new, inventive and ground-breaking musicals. I want the next generation of musical writers to find support here.
“The Watermill has sensational acoustics and is like an instrument in itself. It’s made for this kind of theatre.
“I want to tackle musicals and drama — dissecting the way in which live music can be used on stage.
“I intend the theatre to be the epicentre of new approaches in the way in which music and text combine, and will be working with well-known composers to achieve that.”
Watership Down runs from Thursday (June 16) to Saturday, July 23. Tickets start at £15. To book, visit www.watermill.org.uk or call 01635 46044.