Following the West End season of his RSC productions of Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest in the West End, Whatsonstage.com Award winner Patrick Stewart (Best Solo Performance for A Christmas Carol) will star in another Shakespeare double-header this summer. Stewart (pictured) will make his Chichester Festival debut playing bad-tempered servant Malvolio in Twelfth Night and the title role in Macbeth.

Chichester’s Shakespeare theme continues with the premiere of a new bard identity crisis comedy from former Globe artistic director Mark Rylance. Other highlights of this year’s festival - the second season under artistic director Jonathan Church, which runs from 12 April to 22 September 2007 – include a revival of Rodgers and Hart’s rarely seen 1937 musical Babes in Arms, a return of last year’s two-part epic Nicholas Nickleby and star turns from David Suchet, Patricia Routledge, Edward Petherbridge and Peter Bowles.

The 2007 season opens with Alan Bennett’s Office Suite, a double bill of one-act plays, Green Forms and A Visit from Miss Prothero, about office life. The plays, originally written in 1978 for television, are directed by former Chichester dramaturg Edward Kemp and star Edward Petherbridge and Patricia Routledge. They run in the Minerva Theatre from 18 April 2007 (previews from 12 April) to 12 May 2007.

Roger Crane’s thriller The Last Confession receives its world premiere in the Festival Theatre from 8 to 19 May 2007 (previews from 27 April). The play explores the secret world of the Vatican and deals with the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, the “smiling Pope”, just 33 days after being elected. David Suchet stars as Cardinal Benelli in the drama, which is directed by David Jones.

This season’s musical production, Babes in Arms, runs in the Festival Theatre from 7 June (previews from 29 May) to 7 July 2007. Rodgers and Hart’s classic transports audiences back to the glory years of musical theatre, where a group of bright young things from a Cape Cod playhouse aim to take their own show from their barn to Broadway. Well-known songs from the show include “The Lady Is a Tramp”, “My Funny Valentine” and “Johnny One Note”. Casting for the production is yet to be confirmed. It will be directed by Martin Connor and choreographed by Bill Deamer (Olivier-nominated for The Boy Friend), with a cast including Lorna Luft (daughter of Judy Garland).

Macbeth runs from 1 June to 1 September 2007 (previews from 25 May) in the Minerva Theatre, while Twelfth Night runs from 20 July to 31 August (previews from 14 July) in the Festival Theatre. Headlong artistic director Rupert Goold - who directed Patrick Stewart in RSC production of The Tempest, opening next Tuesday at the West End’s Novello Theatre, and whose Jessica Lange-led revival of The Glass Menagerie has also just opened in the West End - directs Macbeth, while Philip Franks directs the same cast in Twelfth Night.

Lindsay Posner directs The Waltz of the Toreadors, Jean Anouilh’s bitter-sweet 1952 farce about a man facing a mid-life crisis, in a translation by Ranjit Bolt. Peter Bowles plays the once-debonair General Saint Pe in the comedy, which runs in the Festival Theatre from 21 June to 4 August 2007 (previews from 16 June).

Running in rep with Twelfth Night in the Festival Theatre, artistic director Jonathan Church’s production of Harold Brighouse’s 1915 English classic, Hobson’s Choice, opens on 2 August 2007 (previews from 27 July) and continues until 1 September. Set in 1880 in a Salford shoemakers, John Savident (best known as Fred Elliott in long-running ITV soap Coronation Street) takes the title role as the overbearing father of three feisty daughters who want to live life their own way.

Mark Rylance challenges everything we thought we knew about the Bard with his new play The Big Secret Live "I Am Shakespeare" Webcam Daytime Chatroom Show, which he’s written, co-directed (with Matthew Warchus, who has also directed him in Sixties farce Boeing-Boeing, just opened in the West End) and stars in. Schoolteacher and authorship enquirer Frank Charlton (Rylance) brings together guests including Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere and Shakespeare himself to try and solve the question about who was really behind Britain’s most prolific playwright. The premiere production runs in the Minerva Theatre from 23 August to 8 September 2007 (previews from 14 August).

Finally, Jonathan Church and Philip Franks’ Whatsonstage.com Award-nominated production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby returns from 10 to 22 September 2007 in the Festival Theatre, ahead of a national tour and transfer to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre in 2008. The two-part epic features a cast of more than 20 actors, who tell the tale of Nicholas as he embarks on a thrilling journey through 1830s England. The RSC’s colossal 1980 dramatisation of Charles Dickens’ classic, by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, has gone down in theatrical lore. This updated version, first seen last summer, was the first major revival since then (See News, 20 Feb 2006).

- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock