Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey this week announced his plans for the Waterloo theatre into 2006, including a unique British/Iraqi collaboration on The Soldier's Tale.
Spacey took a break from rehearsals for the imminent production of Richard II (directed by Trevor Nunn) to outline the theatre's schedule.
In December Ian McKellen will return with last year's sell-out pantomime, Aladdin. Roger Allam returns as Abbanazer. Frances Barber joins the cast as Dim Sum, a role last year played by Maureen Lipman.
Next year's first production will be a limited run of 11 performances of The Soldier's Tale, a world-first collaboration of Iraqi and British actors, bringing a British and Middle Eastern perspective to this Russian legend. Old Vic producer David Liddiment described the the production as "an opportunity ... to re-conceive [the work] in the light of the current conflict".
In another coup for Spacey, he has secured the services of movie director Robert Altman to direct the British premiere of Resurrection Blues by Arthur Miller, the final work of the late American playwright.
Despite "having the time of my life" in Richard II, Spacey says "I don't want to overplay my hand ... so that this theatre isn't on my shoulders entirely". As a result he will not appear in any Old Vic productions for nine months, and is likely to take another movie role during that period.
In September 2006 Spacey will once again tread the boards in The Cut when he plays Jim Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten, reforming the partnership behind Spacey's 1998 Old Vic debut, The Iceman Cometh.
Despite a mixed critical reception to his first season at the Old Vic and press intrusion into his private life, Spacey says he still loves his job: "For me, coming to work every day has turned out to be exactly what I hoped it would be."
He insisted that audiences matter to him more than critics, pointing out that "250,000 audience members have come through the doors of this theatre", no mean feat when the new regime has also had to re-establish the Old Vic as an integral part of the West End circuit after many long periods when the theatre has been dark in recent years.
The artistic director professes himself to be "incredibly encouraged" by the first season, which has seen the theatre on average 70 per cent full for each performance. David Liddiment added that it had been "a delight to see such a diverse group".
Spacey and Liddiment have high hopes for the success of the next season. Richard II has already pulled in advance sales of more than £500,000. The Old Vic has felt the effects of the 7 July bombings which have deterred theatre audiences from venturing into the capital, though Spacey says that the effect has not been as bad as for West End theatres across the river.
Speaking to the Observer this weekend, Spacey stressed his commitment to the Waterloo community: "'I sent the educational department out knocking on every door in the low-income housing areas around here. The majority of people had never been inside this theatre; they don't think it's for them. But I want them in here, and we should all be involved in the redevelopment of the whole South Bank area."
And what of the behaviour of audiences at the Old Vic? Last year Spacey famously told Radio 4: "My feeling is if people don't know how to behave they shouldn't come". His rant obviously sank in. "I'm pleased to say that in the entire run of Philadelphia Story, only one mobile phone went off" – and that was just as Spacey was about to kiss co-star Jennifer Ehle – "I turned out to the audience and said 'We're not in', then I kissed her."