The National Theatre has secured international foreign exchange specialist Travelex as corporate backer for new artistic director Nicholas Hytner's much-heralded £10 season in the NT Olivier (See News, 23 Jan 2003). Travelex has contributed £1 million as part of a three-year contract, including sponsorship of the first "Travelex £10 Season" which launches next week with preview performances of Henry V, starring Adrian Lester.

The signing up of Travelex bodes well for the continuation of the discount ticket scheme, in which two-thirds of the seats in the Olivier (the National's largest auditorium) are being slashed to just £10 (less than half the usual price) with the remaining third kept to £25. In January, when Hytner first unveiled the scheme - as part of his inaugural season on the South Bank - he warned that sponsorship would be necessary for long-term financial viability.

This week, Travelex chairman and CEO Lloyd Dorfman, hailed the arrangement as "the first arts sponsorship of its kind", adding that the season "will make world-class theatre more affordable and accessible to a wider audience than ever before." Hytner welcomed the start of "a long and fruitful collaboration" with the company.

The National has also announced further casting for the Travelex £10 season. In addition to previously announced leads (See News, 19 Feb & 24 Mar) including Lester, Alex Jennings, Zoe Wanamaker and Kenneth Branagh, the season will see Frances Barber return to the National (principals pictured with Hytner & Travelex's Dorfman).

In the autumn, Barber (Closer, Closer to Heaven, Insignificance on stage) will star in Tales from the Vienna Woods, the fourth and final production in the discounted Olivier schedule. Others appearing across the productions include Penny Downie, Ian Hogg, William Gaunt, Peter Blythe, Margaret Tyzack, Tony Haygarth, Stephen Greif and Karl Johnson.

Season Schedule

The £10 season kicks off with Hytner's first of his own productions as director of the National, Shakespeare's Henry V with Adrian Lester, in the title role, joined by Blyth, Downie, Gaunt and Hogg in the 26-strong cast (See casting News, 24 Mar 2003). The first-ever production of Henry V at the National, it will open on 13 May 2003 and continue to 20 August (previews 6 May).

Joining it in repertory from 5 June to 22 November (previews 29 May) is the stage premiere of His Girl Friday, the 1940 film classic directed by Howard Hawks which was based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's original stage play The Front Page. Newly adapted by Six Degrees of Separation author John Guare, His Girl Friday star Alex Jennings as Walter Burns and Zoe Wanamaker as Hildy Johnson, his star reporter and love interest, directed by American Jack O'Brien in his National debut. Also in the 30-strong cast are Haygarth and Tyzack (See casting News, 24 Mar 2003).

Star Kenneth Branagh and director Edward Hall both make their National Theatre debuts with the revival of David Mamet's 1982 play Edmond, which is now confirmed to run from 17 July to 4 October 2003, following previews from 10 July (See News, 19 Feb 2003). Full casting has yet to be announced though Haygarth and Greif are confirmed.

And finally, Tales from the Vienna Woods, David Harrower's new version of German Odon von Horvath's 1931 epic, will run from 14 October to 19 November 2003 (previews from 7 October). Directed by Richard Jones, it will star Barber and Johnson, with further casting to be confirmed.

Further ahead in the Olivier, beyond the Travelex £10 Season, planned productions include Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, freely adapted by Irish poet Derek Mahon, with Irishman Stephen Rea in the title role directed by Howard Davies; and Hytner's second directorial offering, the stage premiere of Philip Pullman's children's book trilogy His Dark Materials, adapted into two plays by Nicholas Wright.

- by Terri Paddock