Branagh returns to stage after 10 years

— Kenneth Branagh was preparing Tuesday to return to the stage for the first time in 10 years. Performances were sold out, and the production was extended four days.

The Belfast-born actor reappears on stage in the lead role of William Shakespeare's "Richard III," which opened Tuesday night at the Crucible Theater in the northern English city of Sheffield.

"It has been the fastest-selling show in the Crucible's 30-year history," a theater spokesman said.

Branagh, 41, who last strode the stage as Hamlet in a 1992 Royal Shakespeare Company production, is being paid the same as all other cast members � slightly above the $417-a-week minimum demanded by the actors' union Equity, the spokesman said.

The actor, who has also carved out a career as a film director, decided to return to the stage after meeting the Crucible's associate director, Michael Grandage, and attending a performance at the theater by fellow Hollywood star Joseph Fiennes in Marlowe's "Edward II" last year.

Branagh was nominated for Academy Awards for both best actor and best director for "Henry V" in 1989 and went on to direct big-screen adaptations of other Shakespeare works, "Much Ado About Nothing," "Hamlet" and "Love's Labor's Lost."

Other acting credits include Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" in 1994 a role in the Woody Allen film, "Celebrity."

But the actor, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, has always loved the stage.

Last year, Branagh directed "The Play What I Wrote," a tribute to British comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, whom he described as his childhood heroes.

Branagh has now signed to play Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the film adaptation of the second of J.K. Rowling's hit books, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."


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