Comedienne Dawn French will star as Bottom in a new feminist-style version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The comedy, Shakespeare's most popular, will play a strictly limited eight-week season at the West End's Albery Theatre. It opens on 22 March 2001, following previews from 16 March, and continues to 12 May.

The production is set in a manor in the English countryside during the 1940s. As a result of the Second World War, the manor has been requisitioned, with one wing of the house now occupied by the exiled court of Theseus, and the other by a group of local ladies from the Women's Institute doing voluntary war work. An enemy bomb destroys the house and transports the occupants into a magical forest, ruled by Titania and Oberon, where the four lovers' romantic entanglements become increasingly confused.

French is joined by a distinguished cast which includes Jemma Redgrave (as Titania), Will Keen (Lysander), Tilly Blackwood (Helena), Gillian Kearney (Hermia), Stephen Campbell Moore (Demetrius) and Paul Rider (Flute).

French is best known for her successful partnership with Jennifer Saunders. Together, French and Saunders have starred in numerous stand-up tours and TV series, as well as plays such as Me and Mamie O'Rourke in the West End. Over the past decade, the two have also branched off into various solo projects. French's recent television credits include The Vicar of Dibley, Murder Most Horrid and Let Them Eat Cake (with Saunders). The well-endowed performer is also famous for her stance on size prejudice as well as her marriage to comedian Lenny Henry.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is directed by Matthew Francis, designed by Lez Brotherston and produced by Katherine Dore.

The Royal Court production of Caryl Churchill's Far Away, which just transferred to the Albery, finishes its run there on 10 March.

- by Terri Paddock