A new play inspired by the real-life story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the American husband and wife executed for espionage during the McCarthy era, will receive its world premiere as part of Hampstead Theatre’s newly announced autumn/winter season, which also features new work by Edward Kemp and Pearson award winner Nell Leyshon.

The new season kicks off, from 19 September to 15 October 2005 (previews from 15 September), with Nathan the Wise. Written in 1799 by German playwright Gotthold Lessing and set in 1192, the tale of religious tolerance takes place at the time of the Third Crusade in Jerusalem, where a Jewish merchant is caught between the occupying Muslim forces and the blockading Christian armies. The play was banned by the Nazis and, prior to this new translation by Edward Kemp, first seen at Chichester Festival in 2003 (See News, 25 Apr 2003), it had not been staged professionally in the UK since its 1967 premiere.

At Hampstead, artistic director Anthony Clark will direct the new production of Nathan the Wise, with the title role played by Michael Pennington, whose recent stage credits include The Cosmonaut’s Last Message…, Colder Than Here, Venus and Adonis, The Madness of George III and, at Hampstead, When the Night Begins.

Nathan the Wise is followed, from 24 October to 12 November 2005 (previews from 20 October), by the world premiere of Nell Leyshon’s second play, Comfort Me with Apples. The lyrical drama, set in Somerset and billed as a “bittersweet elegy to the lives of a rural family”, won Leyshon this year’s Pearson Prize. It’s directed by Lucy Bailey (The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Night Season, Baby Doll).

The Rubinstein Kiss, the play inspired by the Rosenbergs, opens on 23 November 2005 (previews from 17 November) and continues until 17 December. It’s written and directed by James Phillips (whose production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune opens this week at Leicester Square’s new Sound Theatre) and stars Samantha Bond, Will Keen and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp (whose acting credits include Pignight on stage and The Krays on film).

In 1953, amidst rising Cold War tensions and Senator McCarthy’s trials, Jakob and Esther Rubinstein are executed for stealing atomic bomb secrets. In 1975, Matthew and Anna meet in front of a famous photograph of the Rubinsteins in hoping to right what they see as a miscarriage of justice. The Rubenstein Kiss is inspired by the story of the Rosenbergs, the native New Yorkers and alleged Soviet spies who, while in custody, managed to get close enough for a passionate kiss which was captured on film (pictured in background).

The final production in Hampstead’s new schedule will be Tall Stories adaptation of The Gruffalo, which is currently touring regionally and which will have a five-week West End season at the Comedy Theatre starting this week (See News, 1 Jul 2005). Currently at Hampstead Theatre, David Grindley’s revival of Joe Orton’s 1969 farce What the Butler Saw continues until 20 August 2005 (See News, 1 Jun 2005).

- by Terri Paddock