Kathryn Hunter and Claire Bloom will star in Sebastian Barry’s new play, Whistling Psyche, which receives its world premiere next month at London’s Almeida Theatre. It opens on 12 May and continues until 19 June 2004 (previews from 7 May).

It’s a dark night in an old waiting room and two supposed strangers are eager to reach their destinations. Both share a passion for reform but only one, Florence Nightingale, has been honoured. The other, Dr James Barry, would never receive the same acclaim, though notoriety would come after his death, for a very different reason.

Hunter, who plays Dr Barry, was seen last summer as Richard III and Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew in the all-female productions at Shakespeare’s Globe. Her many other stage credits include Complicité’s The Visit (for which she won a Best Actress Olivier), Mother Courage, Electra, The Recruiting Officer, The Devils, The Skriker, King Lear (in which she also played the title role), Scenes from an Execution, Far Away, Spoonface Steinberg and at the Almeida, Dona Rosita and Mr Puntila and His Man Matti.

Bloom, who plays Nightingale, has previously appeared at the Almeida in Conversations After a Burial and When We Dead Awaken. In New York, she has been seen A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, Vivat! Vivat! Regina! and Hedda Gabler.

Dublin-born Barry’s many plays include The Pentagonal Dream, Boss Grady’s Boys, Prayers of Sherkin, The Stewart of Christendom, Our Lady of Sligo and Hinterland. Whistling Psyche is directed by Robert Delamere and designed by Simon Higlett, with lighting by Tim Mitchell, music by Ross Lorraine, projection by Jon Driscoll and sound by John Leonard.

Currently at the Almeida, David Eldridge’s stage adaptation of Dogme cult film Festen continues its limited season until 1 May 2005. Following Whistling Psyche, Mark Almond will return to the Almeida, from 20 to 25 July 2004, performing his theatrical evening of songs and video.

- by Terri Paddock