A new musical adaptation of Colleen McCullough's best-selling 1977 novel The Thorn Birds launches a national tour from Wales this year, opening at the Grand Theatre, Swansea on 23 April 2009 (previews from 3 April) before continuing to 11 further venues. Produced by the Wales Theatre Company, the tour culminates with a week at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

The Thorn Birds, often described as a modern classic, is an epic love story set in Drogheda, a sheep station in the Australian Outback, and centres around the ill-fated romance of beautiful Meggie Cleary and the handsome Catholic priest Ralph de Bricassart. It was turned into a hugely popular TV mini-series in America in 1983, starring Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain, becoming one of the most widely viewed television dramas of all time.

McCullough herself has written the book and lyrics for the musical, which has a score by German composer Gloria Bruni. McCullough has previously resisted offers to adapt her novel for the stage, but was apparently persuaded when composer Bruni, little known outside her native country, sent her a selection of songs inspired by the story.

The novelist received help with the book from award-winning director Michael Bogdanov, who formed the Wales Theatre Company in 2003 and helms the production. Helen Anker - whose West End credits include Beautiful and Damned, Cats and Crazy for You - will star as Maggie Cleary, with further casting still to be announced.

Following Swansea, The Thorn Birds travels to Poole, Aberystwyth, Llandudno, Wolverhampton, Windsor, Bradford, Hull, Plymouth, Malvern and Birmingham, before finishing at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff from 7 to 11 July 2009.

- by Theo Bosanquet