Benedict Cumberbatch will do double duty at the Royal Court this autumn, starring in the cross-cast productions of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Max Frisch’s The Arsonists, which run in rep in the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs from 21 September to 15 December 2007, as part of Dominic Cooke’s inaugural season as artistic director (See News, 6 Feb 2007).

Rhinoceros had its Royal Court premiere in a 1960 production directed by Orson Welles and starring Laurence Olivier. The Arsonists (then under the title of The Fire Raisers) premiered at the Court a year later, directed by Lindsay Anderson with Alfred Marks and John Thaw in the cast. The new productions will mark the first major UK revivals for both plays.

Uniquely for the Royal Court, Rhinoceros and The Arsonists – directed by Cooke and new associate director Ramin Gray respectively – will be performed in repertory by the same company of actors, led by Cumberbatch. Rhinoceros opens 27 September 2007 (previews from 21 September) and is joined in rep from 6 November (previews from 1 November) by The Arsonists.

Cumberbatch’s previous stage credits include The Lady from the Sea, Hedda Gabler and Period of Adjustment at the Almeida. He’s best known for his screen credits including Hawking on TV, for which he was BAFTA-nominated, and the films Starter for Ten and Amazing Grace. His upcoming films include Atonement with Keira Knightley and James McAvoy and The Other Boleyn Girl with Scarlett Johansson.

The plays by Romanian-born Frenchman Ionesco and the Swiss Frisch form the cornerstone of the Royal Court’s new, internationally themed autumn season. The International Playwrights Season runs concurrently in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs with five new plays by writers from Germany, Romania, India, Sweden and Ukraine: Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One (13 September to 13 October), Gianina Carbunariu’s Kebab (19 October to 3 November), Anupama Chandresekhar’s Free Outgoing (8 to 24 November) and a doube bill of Joakim Pirinen’s The Good Family and Natalia Vorozhbit’s The Kohmenko Family Chronicle (30 November to 21 December).

In other play casting news, the League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss (pictured) will join Diana Rigg and Lesley Manville the cast of Samuel Adamson’s stage adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s Oscar-winning 1999 film All About My Mother, which is at the Old Vic from 4 September (previews from 25 August) to 24 November (See News, 21 Jun 2007).

As part of the League of Gentlemen, Gatiss won the Perrier Award for comedy, a BAFTA and the Golden Rose of Montreux Award. The troupe’s acclaimed, cult BBC2 TV show spawned two live stage productions and two feature films. He previously appeared in the West End in Art, along with his fellow Leaguers, Reece Shearsmith, who made his musical debut in The Producers last year, and Steve Pemberton, who makes his in The Drowsy Chaperone this month (See News, 22 Jun 2007).

As previously reported, the All About My Mother cast also features Colin Morgan, Joanne Froggatt and Charlotte Randle. The play is directed by Tom Cairns and designed by Hildegard Bechtler, with lighting by Bruno Poet and sound by Christopher Shutt. It features the film score by long-time Almodóvar collaborator Alberto Iglesias supplemented with new stage music by Ben and Max Ringham.

- by Terri Paddock