Exclusive: Lenny Henry and Omid Djalili plan stage return

Comedians Lenny Henry and Omid Djalili are both planning returns to the West End stage following their respective theatre debuts last year.

Henry, who starred in Northern Broadside’s production of Othello, told The Stage he was in discussions about working with the company again on a production of Twelfth Night.

Djalili revealed he was in talks with Cameron Mackintosh about staring in a revival of the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, following his successful appearance in Oliver! produced by Mackintosh.

The performers were speaking to The Stage at the British Academy Television Craft Awards, which were held at the weekend and at which both were presenters.

Henry revealed he was looking to work again with Northern Broadsides’ Barrie Rutter, who directed him in Othello, and said: “I am very excited. People obviously loved the production and Barrie’s interpretation of it, and it was lovely to be guided by such a hands-on director. He is a great person to work with.”

The production of Othello opened at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in February last year, before embarking on a national tour and coming to the West End in September, playing at the Trafalgar Studios.

Henry’s performance earned him the Outstanding Newcomer prize at last year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

Although nothing has been confirmed, Henry said that there had been discussions with Northern Broadsides and West End producers about a new production of Twelfth Night, with the comic playing Malvolio.

Meanwhile, Djalili said he was talking to Mackintosh about playing a major part in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, which has music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Djalili said he was currently being considered for the role of Pseudolus, which was played by Zero Mostel in the original 1962 Broadway production and subsequent film.

The comic said the musical would have to be a “very tight version” to do well, and added: “It can be very Mel Brooks-like, very fast-paced and very funny if it’s done properly, but it can be done horribly too.”

He said that he was currently waiting to see when Mackintosh wants to do it, but said it would not be before next year at the earliest.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster