As English Touring Theatre's Timothy West-led King Lear prepares to transfer next month to the West End, the company launches its spring touring schedule with a new pairing of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov and his Norwegian contemporary Henrik Ibsen. ETT's production of Ibsen's penultimate 1896 play, John Gabriel Borkman, opened last night (19 February 2003) in Malvern ahead of a two-month regional tour during which it will visit six further venues, including Oxford where it will be joined by Michael Pennington's Anton Chekhov.

Having served eight years in prison for large-scale fraud, Borkman now spends his days fantasising about when he'll finally be recognised for his financial ingenuity, while his long-suffering family must live with the consequences of his obsession. Stephen Mulrine's new translation of John Gabriel Borkman is directed by ETT artistic director Stephen Unwin and designed by Neil Warmington.

The production stars Gillian Barge, Linda Bassett and Michael Pennington. Barge's stage credits have included Passion Play, Intimate Death and The Seagull, while her screen credits include Charlotte Gray, The Jury, Anna Karenina and Armadillo. Bassett was seen recently seen in Out in the Open, Five Kinds of Silence and the award-winning Royal Court production of Caryl Churchill's Far Away. She was nominated for a BAFTA award for her film performance in East Is East, a role she originated on stage.

Michael Pennington, who plays Borkman, was co-founder of the English Shakespeare Company, with whom he toured the world playing various leading Shakespearean roles. More recently, his many stage credits have included, in the West End: The Guardsman, Timon of Athens, An Ideal Husband, Gross Indecency, and the Peter Hall repertory season at the Piccadilly where he appeared in The Misanthrope, Major Barbara and Filumena.

Pennington has also written and performs in Anton Chekhov, which takes the form of an evening with the Russian playwright late in his life. After premiering at the National theatre, Pennington's celebrated one-man show toured extensively to Belfast, Israel and elsewhere around the world. This production has been substantially revised from the original.

Following Malvern, John Gabriel Borkman visits York, Greenwich, Salford, Oxford, Bromley and Richmond. Its joined in Oxford by Anton Chekhov, which also has a week in Bury St Edmunds from 11 to 15 March, while the Ibsen production takes a break.

In addition to King Lear - which runs at the Old Vic from 18 March to 19 April 2003 - ETT's recent award-winning productions have included Ghosts starring Diana Quick and the premiere production of Peter Gill's The York Realist, starring Lloyd Owen and Richard Coyle. The latter transferred to the Royal Court and on to the West End's Strand Theatre and earlier this month was awarded the Critics Circle Award for Best New Play (See News, 4 Feb 2003).

- by Hannah Khalil & Terri Paddock