Three upcoming plays – screen-to-stage adaptations of Midnight Cowboy and The 39 Steps and the 50th anniversary revival of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger – have announced full casting details including, respectively, Olivier Award winner Con O'Neill (pictured), Catherine McCormack and Rachael Stirling. Depending on how they’re received at their originating venues, all three productions are eyeing West End transfers.

In Midnight Cowboy, running from 4 to 28 August 2006 at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms as part of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival (See News, 8 Jun 2006), Con O'Neill will play Ratso Rizzo, the part played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1969 Oscar-winning film. O’Neill won an Olivier for Blood Brothers and was nominated for Best Actor in both the Olivier and the Theatregoers’ Choice Awards for his West End performance in last year’s Telstar. His other stage credits include Mother Clap’s Molly House and, just finished at the National, Southwark Fair.

In Midnight Cowboy, naïve Texan Joe Boy comes to New York convinced he can carve out a new life for himself as a high-class gigolo. When he meets Ratso Rizzo, a small-time con with big dreams, he embarks on an unlikely friendship which transcends his lonely, dog-eat-dog experiences on the mean streets of Manhattan.

The cast also features fellow Award nominee Charles Aitken (Hair, Paradise Lost) as Joe Buck, as well as Emma Kennedy, Sam Cranem, Victoria Lennox and Nancy Walsh. Midnight Cowboy is adapted for the stage by Tim Fountain (Sex Addict, Julie Burchill Is Away, Resident Alien), based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy and the MGM movie, and directed by John Clancy.

Rachael Stirling will co-star with Richard Coyle’s already announced angry young man Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger as part of Peter Hall’s annual summer repertory season at the Theatre Royal Bath next month (See News 29 Jun 2006). Stirling’s TV credits include Tipping the Velvet and Hotel Babylon. On stage, she recently starred in Tamburlaine at Bristol Old Vic and the Barbican and Theatre of Blood at the National Theatre, recreating the role her mother, Diana Rigg, played in the original 1974 film. Her other stage credits include Anna in the Tropics, A Woman of No Importance, Helpless, Dancing at Lughnasa and Othello.

Look Back in Anger marked a turning-point in British theatre when it premiered at the Royal Court in May 1956. Protagonist Jimmy Porter is passionate, articulate and educated but trapped in a dead-end job and the claustrophobia of the bed-sit where he lives with his middle-class wife Alison and best friend cliff. The arrival of Alison’s spirited friend Helena heightens the sexual tension and frustrated energy.

The cast of Look Back in Anger also includes Mary Stockley (Anything Goes, Insignificance) as Alison, Ronald Pickup (Amy’s View, Peer Gynt, Proof) as Colonel Redfern and Richard Harrington (Other Hands on stage, Bleak House on screen) as Cliff. The 50th anniversary production is directed by Royal Court veteran, Peter Gill and designed by William Dudley. It runs at Bath from 22 August to 2 September 2006 (previews from 16 August).

Catherine McCormack (Honour, All My Sons, Lie of the Mind, Dinner on stage, Braveheart on screen), Charles Edwards (currently in Hay Fever in the West End), Rupert Degas (Stones in His Pockets) and Simon Gregor (The Late Henry Moss, The Hypochondriac, The 39 Steps) form the cast of The 39 Steps, which runs at north London’s Tricycle Theatre from 14 August to 9 September 2006 (previews from 10 August).

The 39 Steps revolves around Richard Hannay (Edwards), a Canadian visitor to 1930s London. After a disturbance at the end of a “Mr Memory” music hall show, Hannay meets Annabella (McCormack), who’s on the run from foreign secret agents. The pair are followed back to Hannay’s apartment where Annabella is murdered, setting Hannay on the run in an attempt to break the spy ring and prove his innocence.

On stage, the four actors play some 150 roles between them and recreate all of the story’s thrills and spills, including the chase on the Flying Scotsman, the escape on the Forth Bridge and, according to promotional material, the “first theatrical bi-plane crash ever staged”.

John Buchan’s romantic spy thriller was memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935 and has been adapted, with a comic twist, by Patrick Barlow (aka Desmond Olivier Dingle, artistic director of the fictional National Theatre of Brent) from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Originally staged at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse last June in a production directed by Fiona Buffini, The 39 Steps is directed at the Tricycle by Maria Aitken.

- by Terri Paddock & Caroline Ansdell