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The current Stratford season is a showcase for rising directors. ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

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After the debacle that was ``Carrie,'' the musical adaptation of Stephen King's thriller born here last winter and buried on Broadway soon after, the Royal Shakespeare Company has gone back to basics. Terry Hands, RSC artistic head and director of ``Carrie,'' has handed over the company's Stratford operation to veteran director Adrian Noble. The longtime RSC associate came up with a season buoyed with polished Restoration comedies and ballasted by Shakespeare's histories. Mr. Noble's own mini-marathon of the Henry plays, retitled ``The Plantagenets,'' opens tonight. Even though a recent sampling finds many of the productions not quite on a par with last year's, the Stratford season is serving as a valuable showcase for a fleet of exciting new directors, most of whom are women. Indeed, the most striking, although by no means wholly successful, productions seen by this reviewer were those of this new generation of directors. Nick Hytner, who spends as much time in opera houses as he does in theaters, has curbed Shakespeare's romantic excesses to come up with a lean and mean version of ``The Tempest.'' It stars John Wood, making his much acclaimed return to classical theater after a ten-year absence. Deborah Warner, who debuted at the RSC last year with a stunningly visceral ``Titus Andronicus,'' is back with a vivified ``King John.''

Meanwhile, Garry Hynes, co-founder of Ireland's Druid Theatre and now on loan to the RSC, stretches her wings with a darkly acerbic production of George Etherege's 17th-century comedy of manners, ``The Man of Mode.'' Di Trevis and Sarah Pia Anderson, both RSC regulars, have turned in less well-received productions (unseen by this reviewer) of ``Much Ado About Nothing'' and ``Across Oka,'' a new drama by Robert Holman. Other Stratford offerings include a new ``Macbeth,'' revivals of George Farquhar's ``The Constant Couple,'' and William Wycherley's ``The Plain Dealer.''

A taut `King John'


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