In Brief

Kenneth Branagh launches West End theatre company

Cinderella director Branagh hopes troupe of stars will give his West End gamble a fairy tale ending

Sir Kenneth Branagh is launching a new theatre company with a season of West End plays starring Dame Judi Dench, Lily James and Rob Brydon.

The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company will be based at London's Garrick Theatre from October, and will keep the director away from Hollywood for at least a year.

Branagh began his career on the British stage more than 30 years ago, but is perhaps best known today as the director of blockbuster hits like Cinderella and Thor. But the acclaimed actor and director says he is happy to return to his roots.

"It's exciting to come back to the West End; it has been very good to me," Branagh told The Independent. "I come from the theatre, my bones are in the theatre; it's as natural as breathing to want to be in the theatre."

But Branagh also joked that his agents "would look very sad" when they learned he would be unable to commit to major film projects for a year. His adaptation of Cinderella has already earned £288m worldwide.

Branagh, who is currently filming episodes of the television series Wallander, will direct and co-star in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale alongside Judi Dench, and appear in the French farce, The Painkiller, with Rob Brydon.

He will also direct Richard Madden and Lily James, the stars of his Cinderella movie, in a new staging of Romeo and Juliet. The season will end with John Osborne's 1957 play about a fading music hall performer, starring Branagh in the role of Archie Rice.

The venture continues a director-led trend that has seen a Trevor Nunn season at Theatre Royal Haymarket, Michael Grandage at the Wyndhams and Jamie Lloyd at Trafalgar Studios, says The Guardian.

Branagh, who ran his own Renaissance Theatre Company between 1988 and 1992, said the move was "a gamble" – and one he hoped to repeat in the future.

As an actor, Branagh was last seen in the West End in 2008 in Ivanov. He was also due to direct Jude Law in Hamlet before his film commitments took over. Since then he has directed Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Cinderella, but his focus has now shifted back to his first love, the theatre.

Branagh hopes the audience will share his enthusiasm. "We are asking the public to take a few risks with their hard–earned cash," he said. "Audiences are sophisticated, and they have so many choices of where they may spend their money, how they may get their entertainment."

Tickets for productions go on sale today.

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