TV and stage actress Suranne Jones is to star in a stage version of Virginia Woolf's gender swapping novel Orlando, which opens the Spring-Summer 2014 Season at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre.
To mark next year's First World War Centenary, the season also includes a reworking of literature's oldest war poem, alongside a Bruntwood Prize-winning piece of new writing about the experience of armed conflict today. The Last Days of Troy is renowned poet Simon Armitage's new version of Homer's The Iliad. This will run in rep with Gareth Farr's Britannia Waves The Rules.
Other highlights include a new production of Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Maria Aberg; a stage version of iconic 1950s novel Billy Liar, and Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days – brought to the stage in a co-production with the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Best known for playing Rachel Bailey in ITV police drama Scott and Bailey and her long-running role as Karen McDonald in Coronation Street, she was last seen at the Royal Exchange in Blithe Spirit in 2009.
Described as the longest love letter in literary history, Woolf's novel about sex, love, and history was a tribute to her lover, writer Vita Sackville-West. It tells the story of an English nobleman Orlando - the lover of Queen Elizabeth I - who wakes up one morning to find he has changed into a woman. Orlando is directed by Max Webster and runs from 20 February - 22 March.
The season continues with guest director Maria Aberg's new production of a play considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest comedies, Much Ado About Nothing - from 27 March to Saturday 3 May.
The Last Days of Troy is next by poet and novelist Simon Armitage and it runs from 8 May - 7 June. This new version of Homer's The Iliad is the story of two countries moving towards war - how conflict starts in a petty way and then escalates at a great cost to human life. Told through the eyes of Achilles, this fast-paced, visceral piece of story-telling culminates in the legendary tale of the Trojan Horse. The production is directed by Nick Bagnall.
Playing in repertoire will be the world premiere of Gareth Farr's Britannia Waves the Rules. This play – which won a Judges Award in the 2011 Bruntwood Prize – tells the story of young soldier Karl who is discharged from the army with post traumatic stress disorder. It looks at what compels people to serve their country and how sometimes their country fails to serves them.
The season continues with Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall which runs from 13 June -12 July. Famously filmed in the 1960s – with Tom Courtenay in the title role – the story's central character, Billy Fisher is bored by his job and spends his time blending fantasy and reality, indulging in fantasies and dreams of life in the big city.
Guest director, Stockport-born Sam Yates, has recent credits which include Cornelius (Brits Off Broadway, New York and Finborough ), Mixed Marriage (Finborough) and Poetry Week (Donmar Warehouse).
The season finishes with Laura Eason's stage adaptation of Jules Verne's classic adventure Around the World in Eighty Days – a co-production with the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme - which runs from 17 July to 16 August.
A cast of eight act out this family show, which takes its audience on an amazing journey. Spurred on by a £20,000 wager by his friends from the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg and his French valet Passepartout set off from London in an attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days.
New Vic Artistic Director Theresa Heskins – who will direct this new production – said: "It is a novel written by a Frenchman, in an adaptation by an American woman. It takes a wryly affectionate look at the idea of empire, and pokes gentle fun at the stereotypical British stiff upper lip. What's especially good about Laura Eason's adaptation is that it adds sensitivity and humanity to an epic tale, without detracting from the adventure."