Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 18:14 UK

Mendes brings theatre project to UK

by Bernadette Kitterick
BBC News reporter

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Return to the West End for Sam Mendes

It was Shakespeare who wrote: "All the world's a stage."

Now the acclaimed British director Sam Mendes is determined to prove it is - by undertaking one of the most ambitious theatre projects ever.

In an unprecedented partnership he has formed a theatre company made up of some of Britain and America's finest actors - to perform the Bard's The Winter's Tale and Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard around the globe.

The Bridge Project, as it is known, arrives at the Old Vic in London this week, as part of an international tour.

It is the result of a collaboration between Mendes - who won an Oscar for his first film, American Beauty - and the star of that movie, Kevin Spacey, who is artistic director of the Old Vic.

The 20-strong company of actors have each clocked up more than 35,000 air miles. The productions opened in New York nearly a year ago and have toured Singapore, New Zealand, Spain and Germany before arriving in London.

'Unified company'

The acting talent includes the likes of Simon Russell Beale and Sinead Cusack, alongside up-and-coming actress Rebecca Hall, the winner of a Golden Globe for her role in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

The American actor Ethan Hawke, who shot to fame in the film Dead Poets Society, is also a member of the company.

Sam Mendes admits part of the challenge was bringing together transatlantic talent that have been traditionally kept apart by geography and trade union rules.

Rebecca Hall
Hall starred in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige

He said: "It was an opportunity to try and create a company, which was 50% English, 50% American and to find a way of creating a unified company out of people who are not allowed to work together on stage."

Ethan Hawke said being a member of the company was an amazing experience: "There is definitely a buzz about acting on stage that doesn't exist in cinema."

When Sam Mendes was asked whether there could be a role for his film star wife, Kate Winslet, he replied:

"I wish. The international touring aspect of it makes it pretty impossible when you've got a family and kids at school, that sort of thing is a big upheaval for almost a year. But who knows in the future?"

The Bridge Project will continue for another two years - and the creators hope it represents a new model for producing theatre.



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