In the late spring of 1993 Barrie Rutter's newly-formed theatre company Northern Broadsides was rehearsing The Merry Wives of Windsor in one of the big empty upper rooms at Salts Mill.

On one particular day Rutter was stopped in his tracks by a flash of inspiration.

"I suddenly stopped and said: 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if King Lear had to carry Cordelia the length of this room crying Howl! Howl! Howl! ' One of the ladies in the cast started crying," he said.

The idea of staging Shakespeare's elemental tragedy at Salts stayed with Rutter; now it is on the threshold of reality. Rehearsals start on August 2 for a prospective run at Salts in early September, perhaps from the 4th to the 11th.

It would be put on in one of the empty rooms on the top floor of the Mill where Broadsides' production of Tony Harrison's Passion, from the Mystery Plays, was successfully put on last year.

Rutter, probably the best-known professional actor-manager in the country by now, intends to take on the role of Lear. "I like to follow my inspiration through," he added.

He's currently looking for sponsorship to help stage the play, which will finish up at Dean Clough's Viaduct Theatre.

"Some companies get £500,000 a year and don't tour as much as we do," he said tartly. Northern Broadsides is in the 13th week of an 18-week nationwide tour of Rutter's marvellous production of Twelfth Night, which The Guardian's theatre critic Michael Billington came to Halifax to review earlier this year.

He enjoyed it, picking out Helen Sheals and Rutter for their performances as Olivia and Malvolio, and concluded his review by saying: "It gains both from its stylishly austere ambience and from Conrad Nelson's choral music which ranges from the Deep South to the Russian Steppes."

Nelson's music is a big reason for the play's success, that and the company's ability to perform it thrillingly; but in truth the quality of the production hinges on the interlocking performances of the whole cast, for which Rutter as director must take much credit.

Twelfth Night, which has a two-week run at West Yorkshire Playhouse from May 11-22, depends for its magical climax on the cast making the audience experience afresh the reunion of the twins Viola and Cesario. When I saw the play, Julie Livesey, who was a wonderful Viola, gazed at her brother with real tears of wonder and joy in her eyes.

On that occasion the audience was utterly overcome. The Bishop of Bradford, the Right Reverend David Smith, told me it ranked with the finest Shakespeare productions he had ever seen, including those in London.

Rutter says the production has had terrific receptions on the road and marks the play as a "wonderful success", with audience capacity at an average of about 65 per cent.

He's pleased because the company's itinerary included new venues at Westcliffe-on-Sea in Essex, Stockton, Stoke and Derby. Rutter, whose company has performed to great acclaim in the United States, Brazil, the Czech Republic, and London's Globe Theatre, is always looking for challenges and new worlds to conquer.

Next summer, for example, he's hoping to do an adaptation of Shakespeare's history plays - the Wars of the Roses - at Bradford's Lister's Mill, providing the council buys the place.

Twelfth Night at West Yorkshire Playhouse runs from May 11-22, starting at 7.30pm. There are matinees on the 13th and 20th at 2pm, and on the 15th and 22nd at 3pm. The box office number is 0113-213-7700.

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