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A bubble for the Bard

London Evening Standard, 6th March 1987

They are the cheekie chappies who turned up at the Arts council with a bold idea, sold it brilliantly and walked away with £100,000. Then they more than doubled that sum from elsewhere and disappeared to make their promise come true.

Actor Michael Pennington and director Michael Bogdanov are now about to prove to London the virtue of their invention.

They formed a new group called the English Shakespeare Company, created with a commitment of touring the Bard to the regions – but they are combining that with an essential service to London.

For a start they are bringing Shakespeare back to the Old Vic after an over-long absence and will do so in the most forceful form.

The Penn/Bog group arrives down the Waterloo road on March 16th with the trilogy of ‘Henry IV Parts I & II’ and Henry V’, and during the seven-week season will give the complete trilogy in an all-day performance every Saturday. This is known as event theatre and that is exactly what they set out to achieve. Pennington, ex-National and RSC – where he played a notable Hamlet – leads the 25-strong ensemble as Prince Hal and Henry V.

The company has been on the road since last November, including visits to France and Germany, and will wind up with a post-London run at the Toronto theatre base of the Old Vic backers, the Mirvish family. But at present they have London firmly in their sights – not least to get back to their own houses.

The tall and articulate Mr Pennington said: “It was at the Old Vic I first became struck as an 11-year-old boy and I’ve always though it was the natural home of Shakespeare.”

It was Pennington who proved the gutsy nature of the troupe when, on a day he was playing Prince Hal, he also went on as understudy in the small role of Feeble.

Pennington wants to keep the firm together after the Henrys though he could claim a new future in America where a CBS film he made as Sherlock Holmes has just been acclaimed.

“It would be interesting to explore what’s available there, but I like the idea of an actor and a director being in harness together to run a company.

“Some of the best times I’ve had have been at the RSC and the NT but I get a bit bored with the faddishness of their casting. If you have to work for a bureaucracy I’d rather create my own and make it a small one like this.”

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