Dickens gets the musicalisation treatment with a new stage adaptation of his 1854 classic Hard Times, which opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 6 June 2000. The new musical, by Christopher Tookey and Hugh Thomas, will star Brian Blessed and Roy Hudd.

Often called Dickens' 'industrial novel', Hard Times satirises the Victorian era's dreary philosophy of utilitarianism and its trend towards mechanisation both in the school room, in the form of fact-mad teacher Gradgrind, and on the factory floor, in the form of humbug industrialist Bounderby.

Blessed plays both Charles Dickens, as a narrator, and Thomas Gradgrind, while Hudd doubles up as circus owner Samuel Sleary and Mrs Pegler. Actor, writer and moutaineer Blessed's theatre credits include, for the RSC, Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III, and in the West End, Old Deuteronomy in Cats (New London Theatre), Incident at Vichy (Phoenix), The Exorcism (Comedy) and Metropolis (Piccadilly). Comedian Roy Hudd, best known for his radio programme 'The News Huddlines', appeared most recently on stage as Pseudolus in last summer's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Open Air).

They are joined in the cast by Patsy Rowlands and Susan Jane Turner. Tookey, an author and journalist for the Daily Mail newspaper, also directs the production.

Michael Boyd's production of Strindberg's Miss Julie, starring Christopher Eccleston, is currently playing at the Haymarket and continues until 27 May 2000.