On Stages: Is becoming the complete actor the new black?

Is taking a part in a play and then returning to try an older role a number of years later just a gimmick?

Heathers to Hamlet
The casting of the awful Shannen Doherty in the HBO flop series Heathers – a nod to her role as one of the three title characters in the original 1987 film – certainly was. Her part was peripheral and there was no sense that she was in any way bridging the works or completing an arc.

Michael Caine’s decision to play alongside Jude Law in the 2007 version of Sleuth was more meta-theatrical. Caine had played Law’s role in the 1972 original opposite Laurence Olivier, and thanks to his stellar performance and a knowing screenplay by playwright Harold Pinter, we were given the sense that the films were woven into a larger tapestry.

And it would appear to be a favoured course for many Shakespearean actors, such as Derek Jacobi, who played Hamlet in the 1980 BBC yawn-fest to then return as King Claudius in the 1996 Kenneth Branagh version – offering proof, of course, that they are the complete actor.

And even the gimmicky cross-pollination casting decisions can resonate, particularly when actors play roles in conflict with one another: from Charlton Heston’s appearance in the original Planet of the Apes as the marooned astronaut to his cameo as an ape in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, to Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum swapping peripheral sides for the 1991 remake of Cape Fear, having played the protagonist and antagonist in the 1962 original.

The woman is back
“Actors I think enjoy the challenge of playing different characters in well written plays and of returning to such a play,” contends Ian Burns who has uttered every line of That Theatre’s autumn play, Susan Hill’s chilling The Woman in Black (Oct 24-Nov 24 at Krudttønden, tickets: 175kr; that-theatre.com), playing both the young and old versions of the same character.

“I know for example that I’ll be slightly different this time as Arthur Kipps [incidentally the name of the lead character in Half a Sixpence as well], the haunted man trying to exorcise his past in the telling of his story – and selfish even in his desperation to have to tell this tale for his own sanity.”

For Burns this will be his second outing as Kipps in five years, having played the actor/young Arthur, the role occupied by Benjamin Stender again, in a That Theatre version in 2004. Barry McKenna will again direct after taking the helm in 2013, and the pair will of course be joined by a certain woman with a fondness for dark clothing (easy to cast – could be any Dane).

“The Woman in Black for me represents all that can be brilliant and exciting about theatre. With very little at our disposal the actors have to engage the audience’s imaginations. Once they have drawn people in then it only takes subtle changes of lighting, a musical chord or stillness to create a collective sense of ‘something’s going to happen’. I love that,” enthused Burns.

“We have got a few more technical tricks up our sleeves with this production, but the intimacy that Krudttønden provides makes this story even more frightening than playing it in a 1,000-seater, as there’s quite simply nowhere to hide.”

Kit Kat Krudttønden
It will be a busy October at Krudttønden as the Copenhagen Theatre Circle is staging Cabaret (Oct 3-6 & 10-13; tickets: 220kr; ctcircle.dk), the 1966 John Kander musical made famous by the 1974 film starring Liza Minneli.

Traversing a 1930s Berlin rapidly filling up with Nazis, a young journalist discovers the seedy delights of the Kit Kat Klub, as one of the CTC’s largest casts for years takes on the classic.

The director Christina Hildebrandt is in no doubt that this is a huge endeavour and one of the reasons why the CTC has only attempted one other musical in recent times: Godspell in 1998.

“There are 21 people on stage (14 actors and 7 musicians who are present at all time) and the logistics of placing them all in Krudttønden has been a bit of a challenge,” she confesses.

“Having a live band creates extra challenges as the fine tuning of the tempo, sound, and interpretation has to be done hand-in-hand with the actors and this takes extra time.”

Not many people realise that Joel Grey, who plays the Master of Ceremonies in the 1974 film, is the father of Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing (possibly because they presume he is gay … and he is), and this CTC production has its own piece of parent-child trivia.

“Casting Fraulein Schneider was hard and Bente Frederiksen was found at the 11th hour, although she is absolutely wonderful and was worth the wait,” reveals Hildebrandt.

“And as a strange coincidence, her daughter Charlotte Cumberland was cast as one of the Kit Kat girls. Mother and daughter have different surnames, and it was not until they were at our first rehearsal that they told me they were related.”

It has everything
The director and leading lady in Oliver! (Oct 12-24; MusikTeatret Albertslund, Bibliotekstorvet 1-3; 195-245kr at billetlugen.dk) are also related, but it’s a less of a coincidence as husband and wife Russell and Christina Anthony-Collins are the co-founders of the SceneKunst drama school for children, and in October they will be taking audiences back to Dickensian London for a second helping of Lionel Bart’s crowd-pleasing musical after a well-received show in 2016.

The Danish-language show features SceneKunst students and professional actors and singers playing the adults, and the director is convinced  internationals will enjoy it if they give it a chance – it is after all a well-known story.

“Even if you Danish isn’t great, you’ll be able to follow the story through the well-known characters and plot. Lots of dancing, singing and a live professional orchestra will ensure it’s a great evening’s entertainment,” he promises

“Oliver! is a beautiful story and my focus is to simply tell that story by creating memorable characters and relationships, and to develop the story through great acting. Add to that fantastic choreography, singing and music and hopefully our audiences will be able to sit back, lose themselves in the story and be entertained.”

Across the city
Elsewhere on the stage this month, we’ve got three great operas to look forward to: Mozart’s masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro (ends Oct 21; Gamle Scene; 100-725kr; kglteater.dk), Verdi’s Il Travatore (ends Nov 20; Operaen; 150-925kr, kglteater.dk) and La Boheme (ends Nov 20; Operaen; 150-925kr, kglteater.dk).

October’s ballets include Carmen (ends Nov 1; 100-725kr), Dans2Go (Oct 23-March 18; 200-260kr), Ghosting (Oct 26-Nov 10; 200kr) and Napoli (Oct 31-March 7; 80-625kr). All of the performances are at Gamle Scene, while the tickets can be ordered via kglteater.dk.

It’s never too early to get in the mood for Christmas, so make sure you book your tickets for Vivienne McKee’s Crazy Christmas Cabaret (Nov 13-Jan 5; Tivoli Glassalen; tickets: 170-385kr, londontoast.dk), which this year is called ‘Fogg’s Off’ – a departure from the Donald Trump-inspired romps that have delighted audiences for the past two years.

And look out for Slapstick & Slaughter (Oct 4-6 & 11-13, times vary; Bådteatret, Nyhavn; tickets: 135kr, teaterbilletter.dk), a touring British production performed by Desperate Men (actors Richard Headon and Jon Beedell) – a show that has been compared to Monty Python being performed by Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show. If portentous pomposity sounds like fun, you’re in luck.