Matthew Kelly (pictured) returns to the stage this autumn to star in Twelfth Night, the latest Shakespeare in Theatre Royal Plymouth’s extended bard touring initiative. The new production opens at Plymouth on 26 September 2005 before continuing, until 19 November, to six further venues.

Kelly’s win of last year’s Best Actor Olivier - for his performance as gentle giant Lennie in the Birmingham Rep production of Jonathan Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men which transferred to the West End - completed a remarkable comeback for Kelly, previously best known as the presenter of TV game show Stars in Their Eyes. His arrest in January 2003, following accusations of child sex abuse dating from the 1970s, generated outraged newspaper headlines. But the claims were unfounded and police dropped their charges the following month.

Despite the controversy at the time, Kelly honoured his commitments to Of Mice and Men which launched – on schedule - a three-month UK-wide tour in February 2003 before its transfer that autumn to the West End’s Savoy Theatre. Kelly’s other stage credits have included The Taming of the Shrew, Kafka’s Dick, Blue Remembered Hills, Peter Pan and, on tour at the end of last year, Season’s Greetings.

Kelly has previously appeared in a Birmingham Rep production of Twelfth Night, playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In Patrick Mason’s new staging of the Illyria-set comedy of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and unrequited passions, he’ll play Malvolio, the humourless steward of the rich countess Olivia, who he’s tricked into believing has fallen in love with him.

Joining Kelly in the Twelfth Night cast are, so far confirmed, Honeysuckle Weeks (TV’s Foyle’s War) as Viola, Christopher Benjamin (Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear at the RSC, Noises Off at the National) as Sir Toby Belch and Hilton McRae (The Tempest, Comedy of Errors, Mamma Mia!, My One and Only) as Feste. The production is designed by Mike Britton with lighting by Howard Harrison and music by Conor Linehan.

In 2002, the Theatre Royal Plymouth, as the first beneficiary of an Arts Council of England National Touring Contract, joined forces with West End producer Thelma Holt to launch a major initiative to tour a new Shakespeare production every year over an initial three years (See News, 25 Jun 2002). That year’s production of The Tempest, starring Richard Briers as Prospero, was followed in 2003 by The Taming of the Shrew featuring Ross Kemp and, last year, Japanese director Yuko Ninagawa’s English-language Hamlet led by Michael Mahoney.

The initiative has now been extended by another three years with Twelfth Night the first offering as part of the new term. Following Plymouth, the production will visit Wimbledon, Bradford, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Guildford and Norwich.

- by Terri Paddock