In an incredibly busy week – which includes the hugely anticipated arrivals of The Philadelphia Story, starring Kevin Spacey, Blood Wedding, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, and Billy Elliot - The Musical - amongst the major shows opening in London this week are:

OPENING TONIGHT, Monday 9 May 2005 (previews from 5 May), Dennis Kelly’s Osama the Hero receives its world premiere at north London’s Hampstead Theatre (See News, 30 May 2005). The play runs in rep until 11 June 2005 with Jane Bodie’s A Single Act, which opens next week. Both plays are directed by Hampstead artistic director Anthony Clark, are performed by the same company, and examine individuals’ anxiety living in a climate of terror.

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ALSO TONIGHT (previews from 6 May), Incomplete and Random Acts of Kindness, the latest play from David Eldridge, who won this year’s Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best New Play for his adaptation of Festen, premieres at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, where its limited season continues until 28 May 2005 (See News, 23 Mar 2005). Ordinary man Joey feels like everywhere he looks people are slipping away. In a world he can’t connect with, is there someone out there who can connect with Joey? The production, directed by Sean Holmes, features Tom Georgeson.

ALSO TONIGHT (previews from 6 May), the first English stage version of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s best-selling novel The Alchemist transfers to the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, north London, following a 30-venue UK tour. The Cornish Theatre Collective production plays for six weeks until 19 June 2005.

** DON’T MISS the chance to get 2-for-1 tickets to The Alchemist, just £7.50 per person! – offer ends 31 May 2005 - click here for details! **

OPENING TUESDAY, 10 May 2005 (previews from 3 May), The Philadelphia Story is the final, and arguably most keenly anticipated, production in Kevin Spacey’s inaugural season as artistic director of the West End’s Old Vic (See News, 30 Mar 2005). Spacey stars (to 18 June only) as ex-husband CK Dexter Haven to Jennifer Ehle’s spoilt heiress Tracy Lord in the revival of Philip Barry’s 1939 Broadway comedy, which was famously made into George Cukor’s 1940 Oscar-winning film, starring Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

The top-notch cast also features American film actor DW Moffett as journalist Mike Connor (played by Stewart on screen), Julia McKenzie as Margaret Lord, Oliver Cotton as Seth Lord, Nicholas Le Prevost as Uncle Willie, Richard Lintern as Tracy’s fiancé George Kittredge, Lauren Ward as photographer Liz Imbrie, Damien Matthews as Sandy Lord and Talulah Riley as Dinah Lord. The production, directed by Jerry Zaks and designed by John Lee Beatty, is booking until 3 September. There has not yet been an announcement as to who will replace Spacey during his absence for filming commitments.

ALSO ON TUESDAY (previews from 5 May), Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, the tribute to jazz legend Billie Holiday, returns to London for a 12-week season to 23 July 2005, at the New Players’ Theatre, Charing Cross. Originally seen at Derby Playhouse, the two-hander is written by Lanie Robertson and stars Dawn Hope as Holiday.

OPENING WEDNESDAY, 11 May 2005 (staggered previews from 31 March), the long-awaited stage adaptation of the hit 2000 Brit flick Billy Elliot - The Musical finally faces the critics at the West End’s Victoria Palace Theatre - although the following night, 12 May, is being dubbed the show’s official, star-studded ‘opening night’ (See News, 16 Mar 2005). Set against the North-eastern mining strikes of the 1980s, the musical recounts the tale of a motherless boy whose father wants him to learn to box. Instead, he discovers a love for ballet that leads him from secret lessons to a place at the Royal Ballet School.

Billy Elliot - The Musical reunites the creative team behind the award-winning film: director Stephen Daldry, writer Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling as well as producer Jon Finn. It features an original score by pop singer-songwriter Elton John, with lyrics by Hall. It's designed by Ian MacNeil, with costumes by Sue Blane and musical supervision by Martin Koch. It’s produced by Working Title and Old Vic Productions plc.

James Lomas (15), George Maguire (14) and Liam Mower (12) – discovered after a year-long, countrywide search – make their professional stage debuts alternating in the title role. The cast also features Haydn Gwynne as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson and Tim Healy Billy’s father and Ann Emery as Billy’s Grandma.

OPENING THURSDAY, Gael Garcia Bernal - the Mexican-born star of films Amores Perros, Bad Education and The Motorcycle Diaries - takes to the stage at north London’s Almeida Theatre in a new production of Blood Wedding, Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1932 play of love, lust and betrayal in rural Spain (See News, 8 Oct 2004). The new version by Tanya Ronder is directed by multi award-winning Festen director Rufus Norris. Long sold out, the limited season runs until 18 June 2005 only.

OPENING FRIDAY, 13 May 2005, for one night only, Hollywood actors Meryl Streep, Steve Buscemi, Hope Davis and Philip Seymour Hoffman will appear in “Theatre of the New Ear” at the Royal Festival Hall. These live sound readings of two ‘sound plays’, written and directed by filmmaker brothers Joel and Ethan Coen and Charlie Kaufman respectively are set to music by their long-time collaborator, composer Carter Burwell. Like Blood Wedding, this is also long sold out. Contact the venue for returns.

- by Terri Paddock