Cross-dressing British comedian Eddie Izzard begins previews today for Lenny, the biopic on the life of American shock comedian Lenny Bruce. The production, directed by Sir Peter Hall, who has returned from directing Shakespeare in Los Angeles for the engagement, opens at the Queen's Theatre on 9 August and continues until 16 October 1999.

Izzard is best known for his touring comedy shows and videos such as Dress to Kill and Glorious. He made his West End acting debut in 1994 in David Mamet's The Cryptogram at the Ambassadors Theatre. His other stage credits include Edward II and 900 Oneonta. On film, he has recently appeared alongside Ewan McGregor in Velvet Goldmine and in The Avengers.

He is joined in the cast by David Ryall (last seen in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love at the Haymarket), Stephen Noonan (Gross Indecency at the Gielgud), Elizabeth Berkley, Sandra Caron, Matt Devereaux, James Hayes and Annette McLaughlin.

Prejudice, censorship and the law were Lenny Bruce's enemies as he tore into established society. He became famous for his filthy jokes and anger-filled political satire - as well as his heroin addiction. In 1966, he died prematurely of a suspected drugs overdose. Lenny, the play, premiered on Broadway in 1970 before being made into a film, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Dustin Hoffman, in 1971.

Lenny is produced by PW Productions, who also teamed up with Hall on the revival of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, starring David Suchet and Michael Sheen. If Lenny succeeds in the West End, producers hope to take it to America.