Award-winning actor Stephen Dillane (pictured) is bouncing back from the disappointment over his last stage production - Hannie Rayson's Life After George which, in March, closed after only one month at the West End's Duchess Theatre - by headlining Tom Stoppard's much-anticipated stage trilogy which receives its world premiere, directed by Trevor Nunn, at the National Theatre this summer. The Coast of Utopia - comprising Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage - will open at the NT Olivier on 3 August 2002, following previews from 27 June.

A sweeping epic tracking the history of 19th-century Russia, The Coast of Utopia features a 29-strong cast depicting 50 characters, both fictional as well as real-life individuals such as Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev. The plays can be seen individually or as a whole, with an estimated running time of some seven hours excluding breaks, on one of seven planned "trilogy days".

While his most recent stage foray failed, despite good notices for his own performance, Dillane is best known for his numerous stage successes, one of his most successful being in another Stoppard vehicle, the 1999 Donmar revival of the playwright's 1982 tragi-comedy The Real Thing, which transferred to the West End and Broadway. That much-lauded production garnered numerous accolades, including a Tony Award and Olivier nomination of Best Actor for Dillane.

The actor's other stage credits have included a landmark Hamlet for Peter Hall in 1994, Uncle Vanya, Endgame, Hush, and previously at the National, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Beaux Stratagem, Dancing at Lughnasa and Tony Kushner's Angels in America. On television, the actor has appeared in The Rector's Wife, while films have included Sarajevo and Firelight.

The highly accomplished cast of The Coast of Utopia also includes RSC regular Guy Henry, John Carlisle (currently seen on TV in The Forsyte Saga and previously on stage in Stoppard's The Invention of Love at the National and in the West End), Raymond Coulthard (The Relapse), Eve Best (The Heiress, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore), Charlotte Emerson (The Cherry Orchard), Douglas Henshall (This Year's Love, Angels and Insects), Anna Maxwell-Martin (The Little Foxes) and Janine Duvitski (Abigail's Party).

Author Stoppard has had several successful premieres at the National, including Arcadia, On the Razzle and, most recently, The Invention of Love. Amongst his other plays are Indian Ink, Jumpers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties. Stoppard has also scored big with his screenwriting on films such as Enigma, Shakespeare in Love and The Russia House.

- by Terri Paddock