Dame Judi Dench (pictured) will return to the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford-upon-Avon home for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century this winter. She'll star in a new production of All's Well That Ends Well that will run from 3 December 2003 to 7 February 2004 at Stratford's Swan Theatre before transferring to a still-to-be-announced London venue.

At the Swan, All's Well will be followed from 11 February to 3 April 2004 by a new staging of Othello, starring Antony Sher. Both productions will be directed by RSC associate director Gregory Doran, who led the RSC's Olivier Award-winning Jacobethan season into the West End earlier this year.

The multi award-winning Dench, who plays the Countess of Rossillion in All's Well That Ends Well, is an Honorary Associate Artist at the RSC but has not played for the RSC in Stratford since 1979 when she played Imogen in Cymbeline. Most recently, she appeared on stage in the West End playing opposite Dame Maggie Smith in David Hare's Whatsonstage.com Award-winning play The Breath of Life.

Of her upcoming RSC role, Dench commented: "The Countess is one of the few Shakespearean women that I've never played and I'm thrilled to be working with Greg Doran and being part of a big company again."

Doran's All's Well will be the RSC's first production of the bard's bittersweet comedy since Peter Hall's mounting in 1992. It will be presented in the West End by Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt who engineered the transfer of the Jacobethan season of five plays, which also featured Antony Sher.

In Othello, Sher will play Iago to fellow South African actor Sello Maake ka Ncube's Othello. The latter is currently appearing as Mufasa in Disney's long-running West End musical The Lion King.

Othello is presented in association with Thelma Holt and HoriPro Inc and continues the relationship with the RSC that began in 1999 with Yukio Ninagawa's King Lear, which starred the late Nigel Hawthorne. Further casting for the two new productions has not yet been announced.

- by Terri Paddock