Sir Kenneth Branagh Will Step Into Mark Rylance's Role at Games Opening Ceremony

Evening Standard, 9 July 2012
By Simon Freeman

Sir Kenneth Branagh is poised to take over Mark Rylance’s leading role in the Olympic opening ceremony, it emerged today.

Danny Boyle, artistic director of the £27 million curtain-raiser, let slip Branagh’s involvement during a rain-lashed rehearsal at the venue in Stratford last night, according to a volunteer performer who then relayed the news via Twitter. Rylance pulled out of the ceremony following the death of his stepdaughter Nataasha van Kampen, 28, from a brain haemorrhage on a flight to Heathrow from the US last week.

He had been due to recite verses from 'The Tempest' during the show on July 27, reading the speech that is the inspiration for the show’s title, The Isles of Wonder.

It is believed the central role will now be taken by Branagh, another leading Shakespearean actor, who is filming in New York.

Independent film-maker Nataasha’s boyfriend Martin Fitzgerald, landlord of the Lord Clyde pub in Borough, paid an emotional tribute to his “Beautiful Taashi”.

He wrote on his Facebook profile: “Never have I met anyone who filled my life with such joy, a kind soul who brightened up my life even after we just met and a perfect lover who made me feel like the luckiest man in the world.”

Oscar-winner Boyle refused to confirm the rumours of the replacement circulating on social media last night. He has already apologised to organisers after details of the programme leaked last month.

The Stratford venue is being transformed into a meadow for the ceremony, described by Boyle as a “green and pleasant land”, which will be watched by an audience of 62,000.

Human resources worker Charlotte Kitteridge, one of the volunteer performers taking part in the ceremony, tweeted: “Kenneth Branagh is taking over from Mark Rylance in the opening ceremony of the OGs.”

Rylance, 52, is due to take the Globe stage next week in lead roles in 'Richard III' and 'Twelfth Night'.

A London 2012 spokesman today would not confirm Branagh’s role.

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