Dame Judi Dench will return to the Theatre Royal Haymarket (where she just finished Peter Hall's production of The Royal Family in February) in order to star with Maggie Smith in the much-anticipated premiere of David Hare's The Breath of Life.

Following rumours in The Goss over the past few months, it's been confirmed this morning that the production will open at the Haymarket for a limited 12-week season with previews from the week commencing 23 September, followed by an opening (no doubt, star-studded) the first week in October.

The production will mark the first time that the two grand dames of British acting have starred together in the West End, though they did meet early in their careers in the RSC ensemble at the Old Vic and have appeared together in two films - A Room with a View and Tea with Mussolini.

And theirs are not the only big names to be involved in The Breath of Life. Director Howard Davies - whose acclaimed revival of Private Lives starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan transfers to Broadway next month – has been drafted in to direct the dames. Amongst Davies' numerous honours are the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Director for the past two years running, this year for Private Lives and previously for All My Sons.

In The Breath of Life, Dench and Smith play two women who have had an affair with the same man. Hare apparently wrote the piece with Smith in mind. The writer's many other plays include Skylight, The Blue Room, Via Dolorosa, The Secret Rapture and Amy's View which starred Dench at the National, in the West End and on Broadway.

Producer Robert Fox is expecting the premiere to be such a hot ticket that he has drafted in additional box office staff to deal with the demand expected once booking opens on 7 May. And that’s saying something considering the profile of recent productions at the Haymarket.

The Breath of Life continues a spate of glitzy casting at the theatre - first with the Dench-led Royal Family which also featured Harriet Walter, Peter Bowles and Julia McKenzie, and now with Lady Windermere's Fan with mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, which continues until 8 June. This summer Sinead Cusack, Harriet Walter and Nicholas Le Prevost will appear in a double bill of RSC productions - Antony and Cleopatra and Much Ado About Nothing - which continue until mid-September prior to The Breath of Life.

- by Terri Paddock