March 17, 2009 / 6:53 AM / 8 years ago

Shakespeare classic by Sam Mendes in first Asia show

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Acclaimed director Sam Mendes is bringing an all-star cast to Asia for the first time to stage Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" in Singapore, as the global economic crisis makes untraditional venues attractive.

The performance is a production of The Bridge Project, a transatlantic cooperation between Mendes, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and The Old Vic in London, whose artistic director is Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey.

The classic play stars stage stalwart Simon Russell Beale, Rebecca Hall, Sinead Cusack and Ethan Hawke, better known to many audiences for his roles in Hollywood films "Training Day" and "Before Sunset."

"This is the first Bridge Project in Asia, and we're very excited that it's Singapore," said Gaurav Kripalani, artistic and managing director of the Singapore Repertory Theater (SRT), one of five global theater companies co-commissioning the production.

"In the past, shows touring this part of the world would go to Sydney or Tokyo, but the paradigm is shifting, and they're not hitting these traditional markets," he told Reuters.

Singapore is the only Asian stop for "The Winter's Tale," which opened in New York in February.

The play, which runs from March 26-31 at the Esplanade theater, will then go to Auckland before touring Europe.

In a statement, Mendes said he was thrilled to be starting the production's world tour in Singapore, a city-state better known for its strict laws than its arts scene.

Kripalani said the global financial downturn, which has hit the arts hard as people cut back on non-essential spending, was working in Singapore's favor as more theater companies look abroad to stage their productions.

"Broadway has been decimated at this point, so we're suddenly getting calls from producers saying are you interested, which is great for us. It's definitely due to the economy," he said.

"Productions like this will help Singapore be known for international, commercial theater," he added, admitting that the SRT was staging the production at a considerable loss because of the lack of corporate sponsors and sluggish ticket sales due to the recession.

"The Winter's Tale," which starts off as a tragedy but ends as a comedy, revolves around Leontes, King of Sicilia and his consuming jealousy, and has one of Shakespeare's most famous stage directions: "Exit, pursued by a bear."

The play also features a distinctive 16-year gap between the third and fourth acts.

Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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