Kenneth Branagh was barely out of swaddling clothes when he played Henry V for the Royal Shakespeare Company (okay, he was 23) and not yet 30 when he published his autobiography, aptly enough entitled Beginning. Now firmly in middle age, at 54, what can the self-styled second coming of Laurence Olivier possibly do for an encore? After proving to be a surprisingly serviceable director of Hollywood popcorn fare (Thor, Cinderella), the five-time Oscar-nominee has returned to the London stage with great fanfare, corraling a few pals and launching a company that will take residence at the Garrick Theatre for 17 months, starting this fall.
The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s five-play season (six actually, but one is a double bill) kicks off in October with a production of the Bard’s late-career The Winter’s Tale (October 17–January 16); Branagh himself takes the role of the jealous Leontes, though the main talking point will surely be the presence of Judi Dench, 80, in the role of the moral arbiter, Paulina. And to allow Dame Judi a bit of a breather, that production will run in repertory with a revival of Terence Rattigan’s Harlequinade (October 24–January 13) starring Branagh and Zoë Wanamaker, and codirected by Branagh and Rob Ashford. Sure, ticket prices are high for London—nudging $160 or more for best seats—but as Branagh could have said, What price genius? 2 Charing Cross Rd.; branaghtheatre.com.