Francesca Annis will return to the Donmar Warehouse this spring to star with former Almeida artistic director Ian McDiarmid in the premiere of Tom Stoppard's new version of Pirandello's Henry IV (See News, 27 Oct 2003). After its London season, running from 4 May to 26 June 2004 (previews from 29 April), the production will launch the Donmar’s first-ever tour, continuing until 17 July 2004 to Salford, Bristol and Liverpool.

In a “Changing of the Guard” interview with last summer (See Features, 21 Jul 2003), Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage, who also directs Henry IV, explained why he wanted to introduce a touring function for the London playhouse: “I'm very aware that, with a 250-seat theatre, sometimes people can't get in to see a show. We need to extend our audience base. I'm keen to take our work out.”

At the time, the plan was to begin with venues on the outskirts of Greater London before venturing nationally and internationally. The decision to start in the provinces rather than London’s suburbs was made upon advice from the Arts Council, Grandage now tells The three chosen venues were recommended as destinations - away from the ordinary “number one” tour stops customary with bigger budget productions - that would “welcome high quality drama from the Donmar”.

“The first of anything has to be slightly modest,” says Grandage. “We’re starting with Liverpool (Everyman), Salford (The Lowry) and Bristol (Old Vic), with those three theatres and communities, then we’ll start to expand our touring aspirations in 2005.” The next Donmar production to tour will be selected from the as-yet unannounced 2005 season. Thereafter, the aim will be to take at least one show a year on the road.

Henry IV concerns an Italian nobleman who, after falling from his horse during a pageant, believes himself to be his carnival character, the medieval German Emperor, King Henry IV. For 20 years he’s lived this illusion. Today a plot is being hatched to shock him out of this 'madness' and into the 21st century.

McDiarmid (pictured) and Annis, who starred last year in Grandage’s revival of Coward’s The Vortex, are joined in the cast of Henry IV by Robert Demeger, Orlando Wells, David Yelland, Brian Poyser, Nitzan Sharron, Neil McDermott, James Lance, Stuart Burt and Tania Emery. The production is designed by Christopher Oram, with lighting by Neil Austin, music by Adam Cork and sound by Fergus O’Hare.

Pirandello was seen last year in the West End with Absolutely! (perhaps). Notable for their themes of absurdity and the relativity of truth, Pirandello's other plays include The Rules of the Game, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Each in His Own Way and As You Desire Me. He was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 1923 and the Nobel Prize in 1934.

Voted one of the world's greatest living playwrights in a recent Big Debate survey, Tom Stoppard's many original pieces include The Invention of Love, Arcardia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Real Inspector Hound, The Real Thing, Jumpers and The Coast of Utopia.

The Pirandello play is followed at the Donmar, from 29 November 2004 to 12 February 2005, by Grandage's revival of the Tony Award-winning musical Grand Hotel. Currently playing, Charlotte Jones’ The Dark receives its world premiere on 23 March 2004 (previews from 18 March), continuing until 26 June.

- by Terri Paddock