Sir Ian McKellen returns to the London stage after a five-year absence when Sean Mathias' revival of Dance of Death opens tonight (4 March 2003) at the West End's Lyric Theatre, following previews from 20 February.

McKellen previously appeared in the August Strindberg play on Broadway when it opened just days after the 11 September terrorist attacks. Despite the unfortunate timing, the production - which also starred Helen Mirren and was directed by fellow Brit Sean Mathias - received critical acclaim and fared well during its four-month season. In the UK, the new translation by American playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain) is directed once again by Mathias but now recast with Frances de la Tour and Owen Teale.

McKellen was last seen in London in the 1997 showings of Enemy of the People and Peter Pan at the National. The following year, the multi award-winning actor publicly decried West End audiences and declared he was ready to get back to "proper", ie regional, theatre. He signed up to a repertory season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where he appeared in a triple bill of Present Laughter, The Tempest and The Seagull. Since then, McKellen has mainly been tied up with film commitments, most notably, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Multiple Olivier winner De la Tour's many stage credits include Fallen Angels, Antony and Cleopatra, The Cherry Orchard, Three Tall Women, A Moon for the Misbegotten and Duet for One. The actress is also a familiar TV face for her role in 1980s comedy Rising Damp. Teale was most recently seen in the title role of Ivanov at the NT Cottesloe. He won a Tony Award for A Doll's House which transferred to Broadway following a West End run and UK tour.

Dance of Death revolves around husband and wife Edgar (McKellen) and Alice who, at home in "Little Hell", are preparing for their 25th wedding anniversary when a figure from their past reappears. The production is designed by Robert Jones, with lighting by Jon Driscoll and sound by Fergus O'Hare.

- by Terri Paddock