After all the speculation about American screen actresses, it’s a Briton with a distinguished stage pedigree who will join Kevin Spacey in this spring’s much-anticipated revival of The Philadelphia Story at the Old Vic. Jennifer Ehle (pictured) will play spoilt heiress Tracy Lord in the revival of the classic Broadway comedy, which runs from 7 May to 23 July 2005 (previews from 3 May), the final production in Spacey’s inaugural season as Old Vic artistic director (See News, 22 Apr 2004).

Calista Flockhart, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and, most recently Laura Linney (See The Goss, 21 Jan 2005) were amongst the Hollywood stars tipped at various points to take the role immortalised on stage and screen by the late Katherine Hepburn. Though born in the US, Ehle was raised in the UK and trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. She made a splash, opposite Colin Firth, in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and also appeared on screen in Wilde, Bedrooms and Hallways, This Year’s Love, Possession and Sunshine.

Ehle’s last London stage appearance was in the Donmar Warehouse 1999 revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, which transferred to the West End. She was nominated for an Olivier and subsequently won the Best Actress prize at the Tony Awards when the production transferred to Broadway, where she beat out competition from her own mother, the actress Rosemary Harris. Ehle’s other stage credits include Design for Living on Broadway and, in the UK, Tartuffe (West End), Summerfolk (National), The Relapse and Richard III (RSC).

Written by Philip Barry as a vehicle for Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story premiered on Broadway in 1939 and was famously made into George Cukor’s 1940 Oscar-winning film, in which Hepburn was joined by Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. It also inspired Cole Porter’s musical High Society.

In the Old Vic production, Spacey will play CK Dexter Haven, Lord’s dapper ex-husband (played by Grant on film) who, with the help of two undercover journalists, hopes to foil the wedding to her new groom. No further casting has yet been announced for the production, which commences rehearsals on 3 April. The Philadelphia Story will be directed by Broadway’s Jerry Zaks (La Cage aux Folles, Smokey Joe’s Café, Six Degrees of Separation) and designed by John Lee Beatty, with costumes by Tom Rand, lighting by Hugh Vanstone and sound by Fergus O’Hare.

The Barry play, which makes its rather belated West End premiere with this new production, was originally due to be mounted at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2001 (See News, 26 Mar 2001). That production was postponed indefinitely due to casting problems, the general election and the foot-and-mouth outbreak (See News, 18 Apr 2001). The same producers, Duncan Weldon and Paul Elliott, are now co-producing the Old Vic presentation.

- by Terri Paddock