Joanna Riding, who just last week won her second Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical (See News, 14 Feb 2003), will take a break from musicals when she finishes her award-winning run as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady next month. Instead, she'll head to Manchester to star opposite Cold Feet's John Thomson in Harold Brighouse's 1915 play Hobson's Choice, which runs from 14 May to 28 June 2003 at the Royal Exchange.

Set in 1880s Salford, Manchester, the classic English comedy revolves around cantankerous and obstinate boot shop owner Henry Hobson who's trying to get the better of his three irrepressibly bumptious daughters. Eldest daughter Maggie (Riding) has a head for business and a will of her own. When she strikes up an unusual partnership with lowly bootmarker Willie Mossop (Thomson), sparks fly.

Riding is one of the West End's leading musical theatre actresses, whose credits include Me and My Girl, Lady Be Good, The Witches of Eastwick, Carousel (for which she won her first Best Actress in a Musical Olivier in 1993) and Guys and Dolls (for which she was Olivier-nominated in 1997).

Thomson is best known for his television roles in Cold Feet (in which he plays Pete) as well as Stan the Man, Men Behaving Badly and The Fast Show, while his film credits include 24 Hour Party People, Redemption Road, Born Romantic and The English Patient. He last appeared on stage at the Royal Exchange in 1996 in a production of The Rivals, which starred Maureen Lipman.

Thomson and Riding are joined in the cast of Hobson's Choice by Trevor Peacock, who plays Hobson himself. He's known to TV audiences as Jim Trott from The Vicar of Dibley. Peacock's many stage credits include Zack, Death of a Salesman and Waiting for Godot at the Royal Exchanges as well as numerous roles for the National and the RSC, such as Howard Katz, The Birthday Party, Show Boat, Guys and Dolls, Volpone and Othello. In 1983, he played Willie in a West End production of Hobson's Choice.

The new Royal Exchange production of Hobson's Choice will be directed by the theatre's joint artistic director Braham Murray. Further casting has not yet been announced.

- by Terri Paddock