Hampstead Theatre will celebrate its third birthday in its purpose-built home in Swiss Cottage, north London, with a star-studded performance of its current production The Best of Friends this Thursday, 30 March 2006.

The new £15.7 million Hampstead Theatre, the first new stand-alone producing theatre to be built in London since the National opened in 1976, officially opened its doors on 13 February 2003, under the then-new artistic direction of Anthony Clark (See News, 12 Dec 2002). It’s located on Eton Avenue NW3, just 50 metres north of the previous theatre, a temporary structure erected in 1962 and only ever intended for a decade's use, which closed on 9 November 2002, with a final performance of the 25th anniversary revival of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party.

Though a string of critical flops contributed to an early financial crisis at the end of the new venue’s first year (See News, 13 Dec 2003), Hampstead has since had better success with a mix of new plays and occasional revivals, two of which – Simon Mendes da Costa’s Losing Louis (a premiere) and David Grindley’s production of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw (a revival) – also transferred on to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios and Criterion respectively.

Amongst the stars expected at this Thursday’s birthday party are: Jane Asher, Prunella Scales, Samantha Bond, Belinda Lang, Linda Bellingham, Warren Mitchell, Harriet Walter, Hugh Higginson and Kimberly Quinn as well as Patricia Routledge, Roy Dotrice and Michael Pennington, who are currently starring in The Best of Friends, which is directed by Hampstead’s founding artistic director James Roose-Evans.

Thursday’s performance will be followed by a birthday dinner, with live entertainment. The theatre aims to raise £40,000 towards future programming. Tickets for the birthday party cost £30 and can be booked on 020 7449 4158.

Further ahead, in the West End, Billy Elliot, will mark its first anniversary at the Victoria Palace on 12 May 2006 with a celebratory performance that will reunite the show’s original three title stars. Sixteen-year-old James Lomas of Sheffield and 15-year-old George Maguire of Essex – who have returned to school having played the role of Billy for over six months - will rejoin 13-year-old Liam Mower of Hull (who continues in the show, sharing his Billy duties with a fresh crop of young stars on alternate nights) to perform alternate scenes as the northern miner’s son who follows his dreams of becoming a ballet dancer throughout the performance on the anniversary night.

Commenting on the special performance, director Stephen Daldry said: "It seemed only fitting to bring back the original boys for Billy's birthday and I am delighted that James, George and Liam are able to return and collectively recreate the magic that contributed to the show's initial success.”

The trio collectively won this year’s Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical, the youngest-ever recipients of the prize. Amongst the show’s many other accolades are the sweep of the UK’s Best Musical/New Musical trophies at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circles, Whatsonstage.com and Olivier Awards.

Since its opening, Billy Elliot has grossed over £30 million. More than 650,000 people will have seen the show when it celebrates its first birthday. The stage production reunites the creative team behind the award-winning 2000 film of the same name: director Daldry, writer Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling. It features an original score by pop singer-songwriter Elton John, with lyrics by Hall. It's designed by Ian MacNeil, with costumes by Nicky Gillibrand and musical supervision by Martin Koch.

- by Terri Paddock & Caroline Ansdell