Old Globe grabs a Royal Shakespeare guy


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Adrian Noble got roughed up a bit toward the end of his tenure as the Bard’s man in Britain -- he left in 2003 after 13 years as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, his plans for tearing down its main stage in Stratford-upon-Avon and building a more contemporary facility having drawn slings and arrows from the press and the arts community.

But now Noble, 58, is eager to have another go at leading a company of Shakespearean actors -- without the full-time logistical and fiscal demands of running an entire theater operation. The gig, being announced Friday, is artistic director of next year’s annual Shakespeare Festival, consisting of three summer productions at the Old Globe in San Diego.


In mid-August, Noble, whose post-RSC freelance work has included directing operas and overseeing the Broadway transfer of his hit London production of the musical, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ will make his first-ever visit to San Diego, and begin his first directing job in Southern California.

He’ll replace Darko Tresnjak, who, after six seasons overseeing the Old Globe’s summer festival, is going freelance. Tresnjak is the director of ‘Coriolanus’ and Edmond Rostand’s ‘Cyrano de Bergerac,’ two of the three productions (along with ‘Twelfth Night’) now in repertory at the outdoor 615-seat Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park.

Noble’s first task is to choose the plays with the Old Globe’s executive producer, Louis Spisto -- probably two Shakespeares and another classic play -- and make some preliminary casting decisions. Speaking Thursday from his home outside London, in the village of Kingston Blount, Noble said he’s hankering to do ‘King Lear’ again -- having led productions at the RSC starring Michael Gambon in 1982 and Sir Robert Stephens in 1993. That depends on finding the right actor to play Lear, which will be on his agenda when he arrives next month.

‘I was very keen to do Shakespeare, and Lou just rang out of the blue,’ Noble said. ‘I thought, `This is good -- to have a group of actors, have an identity, work with them, build up a body of skill and knowledge. It’s just what I wanted to do. It was one of those phone calls -- quite serendipitous.’

Noble said his Shakespearean jones returned last year, when he directed ‘Hamlet’ at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. ‘When Shakespeare is your life for 20 years ... I wanted to do other things,’ he said of the five Shakespeare-free years after leaving the RSC.

What brought him back to the fold, oddly, was a Canadian reality TV show named ‘Triple Sensation,’ in the mold of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent.’ The premise is to find the nation’s best young triple-threat singing-dancing-acting talent, with a panel of pros delivering the verdict. While serving alongside ‘A Chorus Line’ composer Marvin Hamlisch, ‘Jersey Boys’ choreographer Sergio Trujillo and producer Garth Drabinsky, Noble started hearing good things about Canada’s Shakespeare festival under its new leader, Des McAnuff.


‘It was a nice moment to catch me. I was looking to do some theater,’ Noble said.

He said it was invigorating to work with North American actors.

‘What North American actors would bring was a wonderful realism and ability to act in the moment, absolutely truthfully, and what I brought was an understanding of how Shakespeare wrote, and we could make a bridge, a link between the two traditions.’

Noble, who recently directed Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ in Paris, Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’ at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and has a ‘Don Giovanni’ lined up in France as well, said his Canadian experience prompted him to carve out several months to write a book, ‘How to Do Shakespeare.’ Due for publication this fall, it’s geared toward helping student actors ‘on how to handle the language, speak the verse, analyze a speech and deliver it.’

Spisto said he contacted Noble’s agent after seeing the Ontario ‘Hamlet,’ just to say that the Old Globe would be happy to have Noble direct a play sometime. This spring, when Tresnjak informed the Globe he wouldn’t be back after this year’s Shakespeare Festival, Spisto was more specific, offering Noble the artistic directorship for next summer. Whether that becomes an ongoing relationship or is just a one-time teaming ‘remains to be seen,’ Spisto said.

For now, he says, Noble fills the bill as something special for what will be the Old Globe’s 75th-anniversary season. ‘Adrian is a highly sought-after director, and it’s remarkable to be able to lure him to San Diego.’

-- Mike Boehm

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