Hampstead Theatre’s founding artistic director James Roose-Evans returns to the north London new writing venue to direct the premiere tomorrow night (9 March 2006, previews from 2 March) of Hugh Whitemore’s The Best of Friends.

The new play is woven together from letters exchanged between George Bernard Shaw and two friends, a Cambridge curator and a Benedictine nun. Roy Dotrice, Michael Pennington and Patricia Routledge star in the production which runs in London until 1 April 2006 before touring to Bath, Milton Keynes, Brighton and Richmond, where its schedule concludes on 13 May.

Meanwhile, back at Hampstead, the spring/summer season continues with Marie NDiaye’s 2002 French hit Hilda, in which an upper class woman becomes obsessed with the nanny she hires to care for her children. Translated by Sarah Woods and directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, it runs from 6 April to 6 May 2006. The cast are Sarah Cattle, Stella Gonet and Bo Poraj.

It’s followed by the world premiere of Clever Dick, a new comedy by Crispin Whittell, whose Darwin in Malibu was staged at Hampstead in 2004. In New Mexico in 1945 - 30 days before the dawn of the Atomic Age at Trinity, less than two months before Little Boy is dropped over Hiroshima - the Jewish physicist Richard Feynman makes a wrong turn out of Albuquerque and finds himself entangled in an unlikely tale of espionage. Whittell also directs the production, running from 18 May to 17 June 2006.

The season’s final production will be the London premiere of of Alan Plater’s Blonde Bombshells of 1943, based on his 2002 Bafta-winning TV drama The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, which will run from 10 July to 12 August 2006. First seen on stage at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse two years ago, directed by Roxana Silbert (See News, 9 Feb 2004), the piece looks back at the early years of the Blonde Bombshells, the most glamorous swing band in the land.

In the screen version, Judi Dench played Elizabeth, the saxophonist widow who reunites her friends from the wartime group. The film also starred Ian Holm, Billie Whitelaw, Olympia Dukakis, Joan Sims, June Whitfield and Cleo Laine. The stage version features music by Fats Waller, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, George Formby and others from the 1940s.

No casting has yet been announced for the new staging of Blonde Bombshells of 1943, which is co-produced with Bolton’s Octagon Theatre where, prior to London, it will play from 8 June to 1 July 2006.

- by Terri Paddock