American screen star John Lithgow (pictured) will make his UK stage debut playing Malvolio in Neil Bartlett’s new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night (See News, 20 Nov 2006), which will run in rep, with artistic director Michael Boyd’s Histories cycle, at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Courtyard Theatre from 5 September (previews from 30 August) to 6 October 2007.

Lithgow is best known for his screen credits including Third Rock from the Sun on TV and the film The World According to Garp, Footloose, Terms of Endearment, Blow Out, Twilight Zone, Harry and the Hendersons, Cliffhanger, Shrek, Kinsey and Dreamgirls.

However, Lithgow is also a stage veteran. Since winning a Tony Award for his 1973 debut in David Storey’s The Changing Room, his many Broadway credits have included Trelawny of the Wells, Comedians, Once in a Lifetime, Bedroom Farce, The Front Page, M. Butterfly, Retreat from Moscow and the musicals Sweet Smell of Success and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He’s also the author of numerous children’s books.

Bartlett’s production is cast cross-gender, with some actresses taking on male parts and vice versa. The director explains: “Twelfth Night shows a capricious disregard for the normal rules of gender. Girls disguised as boys fall in love with men, men fall in love with girls while thinking they are boys, and women marry boys who in fact turn out to be girls! In the original production of the play, this whirligig of gender mayhem would have been further compounded by the fact the girls and women, like all of Shakespeare’s female characters, would have been played by young men. Taking my cue from Shakespeare’s own exploration of the troubled relationship between disguise and desire, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when this magical play is performed by a company in which gender and role are not necessarily paired as nature intended...”

Lithgow is joined in the company by: Marjorie Yates (Honeymoon Suite, The Master Builder, An Inspector Calls, TV’s Shameless) as Sir Toby Belch, Siobhan Redmond (Perfect Days, The Spanish Tragedy, TV’s The High Life) as Maria, Chris New (The Reporter, Bent) and Iain McKee as twins Viola and Sebastian, and Jason Merrells (TV’s Waterloo Road, Cutting It) as Orsino and his real-life brother Simon Merrells as Antonio.

In the autumn, the same company, with the exception of John Lithgow, will remount Nancy Meckler’s 2005 production of The Comedy of Errors on tour, with New and McKee as the Dromio twins and the Merrell brothers as the Antipholus twins. The tour opens on 19 October 2007 at The Lowry in Manchester and continuing, until 8 December, to Bradford, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Cardiff, Bath and Norwich.

The 24-strong company also includes: Tobias Beer, Matt Blair, Tim Chipping, James Clyde, Tom Davey, Daniel Francis, Stewart W Fraser, Joanna Howarth, Annabel Leventon (as Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Barnaby Power and Rachael Spence.

Ahead of Twelfth Night in Stratford-upon-Avon, Penny Downie leads the all-female cast for the world premiere stage adaptation of Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (See News, 1 Feb 2007), running at the Swan Theatre from 2 to 18 August 2007 (previews from 27 July 2007).

As portrayed in Homer's Odyssey, Penelope (Downie) - wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy - has become a symbol of wifely duty and devotion, enduring twenty years of waiting when her husband goes off to fight in the Trojan War. As she fends off the attentions of a hundred greedy suitors, travelling minstrels regale her with news of Odysseus' epic adventures around the Mediterranean - slaying monsters and grappling with amorous goddesses.

Downie’s myriad stage credits include The Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet at the RSC; Sleep with Me, Enemy of the People and Henry V at the National; and An Ideal Husband in the West End and on Broadway.

The Penelopiad is a co-production between the RSC and Canada’s National Arts Centre. Also in the cast are Mojisola Adebayo, Frances Ashman, Derbhle Crotty, Pauline Hutton and Sarah Malin from the existing RSC ensemble and, from Canada, Lisa Karen Cox, Philippa Domville, Kate Hennig, Corinne Hoslo, Pamela Matthews, Kelly McIntosh and Jenny Young.

The premiere production is directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo and designed by Rosa Maggiore, with lighting by Bonnie Beecher, movement by Veronica Tennant and music by Warren Wills, the team’s lone man. Following Stratford, The Penelopiad visits Newcastle from 5 to 7 September before transferring to the National Arts Centre in Toronto from 19 September to 6 October 2007.

- by Terri Paddock