Irishman Conor McPherson – whose plays have included The Weir, Dublin Carol and Shining City, all premiered at the Royal Court - will make his National Theatre debut directing his new play The Seafarer. The National announced the production today, as part of its new booking period from August to October 2006, as well as a new touring production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle and more casting details for Broadway musical Caroline, or Change and artistic director Nicholas Hytner’s staging of The Alchemist.

As previously reported (See News, 15 Feb 2006), Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change opens in the NT Lyttelton, directed by George C Wolfe, on 19 October (previews from 10 October). The musical, set in Louisiana in 1963 in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, will feature Valda Aviks, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Angela M Caesar, Anna Francolini, Richard Henders, Ian Lavender, Joy Malcolm, Hilton McRae, Malinda Parris, Nataylia Roni and Clive Rowe. The actress to play the title role is yet to be confirmed.

Caroline, a black maid to a southern Jewish family, is struggling to keep afloat both emotionally and economically, while the young son of her employer tries to make sense of the world following the death of his mother. The musical is choreographed by Hope Clarke, with set design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Paul Tazewell and lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer.

Starring alongside Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale in Ben Jonson’s comedy of greed and manipulation, The Alchemist, are Lesley Manville (Pillars of the Community, Some Girls) and Ian Richardson (The Creeper). They are joined by Tristan Beint, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, Bryan Dick, Tim McMullan, Amit Shah and Sam Spruell.

The Alchemist is the final production in the 2006 Travelex £10 Season, and opens in the NT Olivier on 14 September 2006 (previews from 8 September). Directed by Hynter, it’s designed by Mark Thompson, with lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by Rich Walsh.

When Subtle, Face and Doll Common join forces to pose as alchemists, dupes of every kind queue up to fulfil their crazy lusts and dreams. And as the client list escalates, so the frenetic con artists demonstrate ever more outlandish acts of improvisation to avoid discovery and rake in the cash.

McPherson’s The Seafarer enters the repertoire in the NT Cottesloe on 28 September 2006 (previews from 20 September), starring Conleth Hill (two-time Olivier winner for Stones in His Pockets and The Producers), Ron Cook, Karl Johnson and Jim Norton.

It’s Christmas Eve and Sharky has returned to Dublin to look after his irascible, ageing brother who’s recently gone blind. Old drinking buddies Ivan and Nicky are holed up at the house too, hoping to play some cards. But with the arrival of a stranger from the distant past, the stakes are raised ever higher. In fact, Sharky may be playing for his very soul.

Following its London run, in 2007 The Seafarer will tour to Brighton, Bath, Cambridge, Warwick Arts, Salford and Newcastle. The production will be designed by Rae Smith with lighting by Neil Austin and sound by Mathew Smethurst-Evans.

An NT Education mobile production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in a version by Frank McGuinness, will tour the UK from next year, visiting Canterbury, Brighton, Norwich, Dundee, Liverpool, Aberystwyth, Brecon, Coventry, Warwick and Bristol, followed by a limited run in the NT Cottesloe Theatre in March.

A servant girl sacrifices her own safety and the love of her sweetheart to protect a child abandoned in the heat of civil war. Order restored, she is made to confront the boy’s biological mother in a legal contest over who deserves to keep him. The comical judge calls on an ancient tradition – the chalk circle – to resolve the dispute.

Sean Holmes (Translations) directs this new staging of Bertolt Brecht’s morality tale for the NT, in collaboration with the theatre collective Filter. The cast includes Oliver Dimsdale and Ferdy Roberts. The production is designed by Anthony Lamble, with lighting by Paule Constable, video design by Lorna Heavey, and music/sound design by Chris Branch, Tom Haines and Tim Phillips.

- by Caroline Ansdell