Further casting has been announced for several major upcoming plays: the world premiere of Embers in the West End, the first major revival of Howard Brenton’s The Romans in Britain at Sheffield Crucible and, at the National Theatre, productions of Southwark Fair, Complicite’s Measure for Measure and The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

The cast of Embers, in which Jeremy Irons returns to the London stage after a 17-year absence (See News, 7 Oct 2005), is completed with Patrick Malahide (TV’s Elizabeth I, Map of the Heart, Hinterland, Mutabilitie, Judgement on stage) and Jean Boht (TV’s Bread, Steel Magnolias, The Countess, Black Comedy, The Real Inspector Hound, Dangerous Corner on stage). The three-hander is adapted by Christopher Hampton from Hungarian Sandor Marai’s best-selling novel of the same name. It’s directed by Michael Blakemore and presented by debut theatre producers, Eric Abraham and Robert Haggiag. Embers opens at the West End’s Duke of York’s on 1 March 2006 (previews from 15 February).

In Sheffield, Samuel West makes his directorial debut since taking over as artistic director at the Crucible with the first major UK revival of Howard Benton’s controversial The Romans in Britain (See News, 23 Jun 2005), which has a limited season from 8 to 25 February 2006 (previews from 2 February). The cast features Tom Mannion (last seen in Hamlet at the Old Vic) as Julius Caesar, Raad Rawi (Stuff Happens, Bombay Dreams) and Guy Williams (Propeller’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

The play, which premiered at the National in 1980, drew parallels between the modern presence of British troops in Northern Ireland and Caesar’s ancient conquest of this island. However, it became most famous for its graphic scene of male-on-male rape, which inspired campaigner Mary Whitehouse to instigate a private prosecution (later dropped) under the Sexual Offences Act of 1956. The part of rape victim Marban, originated by Greg Hicks, will be played in Sheffield by Dan Stevens (Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It with the Peter Hall Company).

At the National Theatre, Southwark Fair, a new play by Samuel Adamson, will star Margaret Tyzack (His Girl Friday, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the NT, Auntie and Me in the West End) in the lead. She’ll be joined by Rory Kinnear (Mary Stuart, Festen, Old Vic Hamlet), Simon Gleeson (The Far Pavilions), Rhashan Stone (Simply Heavenly), Michael Legge (His Dark Materials), Madeleine Potter (After Mrs Rochester) and Con O'Neill, who has been nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Actor for his West End performance last year in Telstar (click here to vote now!).

Southwark Fair opens at the NT Cottesloe on 16 February (previews from 10 February), directed by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner. Past misdemeanours bear down on the present when Patrick calls up one lover with another in mind. When his wife discovers what he’s up to, she pursues his discarded date through the maelstrom of the South Bank, where a Bird Whistler flogs his wares, a trainee barista primes himself for his wedding, and an elderly actress stalks the Deputy Mayor of London in the metropolitan comedy.

Also at the National, Alun Armstrong (Sweeney Todd, Death of a Salesman at the NT, Bleak House, David Copperfield, Braveheart on screen) and Philip Voss (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Ivanov at the NT, The Royal Family in the West End) will star in the revival of Peter Shaffer’s 1964 play, The Royal Hunt of the Sun (See News, 10 Nov 2005). Directed by former National Theatre artistic director Trevor Nunn, who returns to the NT for the first time since his departure in 2003, the production will launch this year’s Travelex £10 Season, opening in the NT Olivier on 12 April 2006 (previews from 30 March).

Intent on the conquest of Peru, Spanish soldier Pizarro (Armstrong) entices recruits with the promise of inconceivable riches, while the Church claims the cause for Christianity. The ensuing clash between the two cultures leaves thousands of unarmed Inca troops slaughtered and sparks an intense battle of wills between the sun-god and his captor, as the Spaniards plunder for gold. Voss will play Miguel Estete.

And finally, in other NT casting, Complicite co-founder and artistic director Simon McBurney will appear in his own production of Measure for Measure (See News, 10 Nov 2005), which enters in the NT Lyttelton rep for five weeks only from 15 February to 18 March 2006 (previews from 10 February). He’ll play the Duke in a cast that also sees Naomi Frederick reprising her role as Isabella with Angus Wright playing Angelo, the part for which original star Paul Rhys won a Critics’ Circle Award. The production was first seen in May 2004 as part of that year’s Travelex £10 Season in the NT Olivier and subsequently toured internationally.

- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock