Casting has now been confirmed for several high-profile productions of plays opening in the coming weeks, including: the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Vanessa Redgrave-headed Hecuba; the Donmar Warehouse revival of David Greig’s play with more than a mouthful of title, The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union; the West End return of The Vagina Monologues; and the new Sheffield production of Edward Bond’s rarely performed 1972 play Lear, which reunites Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid for the first time since they stepped down as joint artistic directors of London’s Almeida Theatre.

First up, in Sheffield (See News, 19 May 2005), is Lear, which runs from 15 March to 2 April 2005 (previews from 9 March). As previously announced, McDiarmid (most recently seen on stage in the Donmar production of Pirandello’s Henry IV) takes the title role, directed by Kent. He’ll be joined by Claudie Blakley (All’s Well That Ends Well, The Lady from the Sea) and Sharon Small (When Harry Met Sally, The London Cuckolds.

The cast also includes: David Cardy, Tim Chipping, Bryan Dick, Robert East, Patrick Godfrey, Robert Hastie, Aaron McCusker, Stella Madden, Michael Melia, David Nicolle, Georgina Rich, David Sibley, Sam Spruell, Richard Trinder and Kate Webster. The production is designed by Dick Bird.

As joint artistic directors, McDiarmid and Kent turned north London’s tiny Almeida into an international powerhouse. They stepped down, after ten years in the job, in summer 2002 (See News, 5 Sep 2001). Bond’s version of Shakespeare’s tragedy embraces myth, superstition and reality to expose the false morality at the story’s core.

Lear marks the last Crucible production under the helm of Michael Grandage, also the artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse, who has programmed Sheffield Theatres for the past five years. In June, Samuel West, whose production of Insignificance has just opened at the Lyceum, will take over as artistic director (See News, 22 Oct 2004).

In London, Hecuba - which was originally meant to open first in Stratford, where performances were cancelled to allow Vanessa Redgrave to recover from surgery (See News, 12 Jan 2005) – now runs at the West End’s Albery Theatre from 26 March to 7 May 2005, with a press performance on 7 April.

The Euripides classic, in a new version by Tony Harrison directed by RSC associate director Laurence Boswell, marks Redgrave’s return to the RSC after a 43-year absence. Joining Redgrave in the cast are: Darrel D'Silva (Absolutely! (perhaps)), Alan Dobie (Waiting for Godot, Waste), Charlotte Allam, Jane Arden, Rosalie Craig, Maisie Dimbleby, Matthew Douglas, Barbara Gellhorn, Aileen Gonsalves, Lydia Leonard, Michele Moran, Sasha Oakly, Katherine O’Shea, Judith Paris, Sarah Quist, Christopher Terry, Malcolm Tierney and Natalie Turner-Jones.

After a two-and-a-half year absence, Eve Ensler's celebration of female sexuality, The Vagina Monologues, returns to the West End, opening on 7 April 2005 (previews from 4 April) at Wyndham’s Theatre (See News, 11 Jan 2005), where rocker’s wife and reality TV star Sharon Osbourne will star for a limited six-week season. Now confirmed to join Osbourne are her daughter Aimee Osbourne, actress-author-comedienne Jenny Eclair and Naomie Harris (28 Days Later and TV’s White Teeth).

The Vagina Monologues, subtitled "An Anthropological Exploration", reveals a series of different women's stories and experiences involving their genitalia. The material was gathered from hundreds of intimate interviews, conducted by Ensler, in which women were asked probing questions such as "If it (your vagina) could talk, what would it say?".

Finally, at the Donmar Warehouse (See News, 8 Nov 2004), Greig’s lyrical 1999 play, The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union, in which two forgotten cosmonauts orbit a world which can’t hear them, runs from 12 April to 21 May 2005 (previews from 7 April).

Directed by Tim Supple and designed by Melly Still, the cast features Michael Pennington and Anna Madeley (who’ve just been seen together in Colder Than Here at Soho Theatre), Sean Campion (Stones in His Pockets, The Quare Fellow), Brid Brennan (By the Bog of Cats, The Dark, Absolutely! (perhaps)), Paul Higgins (now at the Almeida in Macbeth), Tom Goodman-Hill and Stuart McGugan.

- by Terri Paddock