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The establishment by two actors – Kenneth Branagh and David Parfitt – of the Renaissance Theatre Company offering productions directed by other actors seemed designed to consolidate a shift in the balance of power marked by the English Shakespeare Company’s earlier union of the talents of the director Michael Bogdanov and the actor Michael Pennington. And both companies toured during the current year, challenging the theatrical dominance of Stratford and London. The Bogdanov/Pennington completion of the history cycle played mostly overseas, whereas Branagh’s group opened its three-play season in the heart of England, in the studio of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and travelled in the provinces before its London season at the Phoenix Theatre. The predominantly young company had only fifteen members, one of whom turned up in five different roles in Hamlet (for the record, Barnardo, Lucianus, First Player, Sailor, and English Ambassador). Settings were simple, though not undecorative, and sometimes made ingenious use of limited resources. Though the directors, new to their roles, disclaimed the attempt to project ‘concepts’ of the plays, these were not emptily neutral productions; each represented a coherent attempt to rethink the play for a modern audience.
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