EastEnders' Ross Kemp (pictured) will tackle his first major Shakespearean role this autumn. He stars in a new production of The Taming of the Shrew, which opens at Plymouth's Theatre Royal, running from 2 to 11 October 2003 (previews 29 September), ahead of a six-week tour. The production is the second of three collaborations, in a three-year UK-wide bard initiative launched last summer by the Theatre Royal and West End producer Thelma Holt (See News, 25 Jun 2002).

Kemp is best known for his nine years as hard man Grant Mitchell in BBC television soap EastEnders. Since leaving the programme, his screen appearances have included Ultimate Force, A Christmas Carol, A Line in the Sand, Without Motive, In Defence and Hero of the Hour.

In The Taming of the Shrew, Kemp will play Petruchio who woos and wars with Katherine, played by Nichola McAuliffe, most recently seen as Baroness Bomburst in the West End musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The new Shakespeare production is directed by Mark Rosenblatt (The Circle) and designed by Jon Bausor, with lighting by Chris Davey and music by Simon Allen.

The Taming of the Shrew follows last autumn's staging of The Tempest with Richard Briers as Prospero (See News, 25 Jun 2002). The third production planned as part of the initiative, the first beneficiary of an Arts Council of England National Touring Contract, is a new English-language Hamlet, directed by the celebrated Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa.

Ninagawa last visited Plymouth in 1995 with A Midsummer Night's Dream in a tour produced by Holt. In 1998, Ninagawa brought an acclaimed production of Hamlet, starring Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, to the UK. More recently, he directed Nigel Hawthorne in his last stage appearance in the controversial RSC co-production of King Lear.

The Theatre Royal Plymouth is no stranger to Shakespearean drama. The RSC's discontinued annual residencies in Plymouth (in 1997, 1998, 2000) proved a great success. Their withdrawal prompted the theatre, in concert with Thelma Holt, to fill the subsequent vacuum. Holt was the woman responsible for bringing Shakespeare back to the West End's Shaftesbury Avenue after an absence of 50 years with the award-winning 1983 production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Following Plymouth, The Taming of the Shrew will visit Guildford, Norwich, Brighton, Bradford, Malvern and Nottingham.

- by Terri Paddock