Edward Hall has put together a mouth-watering programme to inaugurate his reign as artistic director of London’s Hampstead Theatre. His first season, which runs from 30 September 2010 to 9 April 2011, includes the European premiere of Athol Fugard’s latest play, a first-ever revival for Mike Leigh, a family Christmas show from Melly Still, and new plays by Shelagh Stephenson, Enda Walsh and Nina Raine.

The season kicks off, from 6 to 30 October 2010 (previews from 30 September), with Hall’s own UK premiere production of Shelagh Stephenson’s “chilling modern mystery” Enlightenment, in which two parents, in desperate turmoil after the disappearance of their son on a backpacking holiday in South East Asia, receive a phone call claiming that he’s been found. Stephenson’s other plays include Ancient Lights, An Experiment with an Air Pump, Five Kinds of Silence and the Olivier Award-winning The Memory of Water, which premiered at Hampstead in 1996.

Enlightenment is followed, from 9 November to 4 December 2010 (previews from 4 November), by the European premiere of The Train Driver, which is written and directed by 77-year-old Athol Fugard. Inspired by a true event, the play is set in the Eastern Cape of Fugard’s native South Africa, where a tormented train driver is compelled to visit a windswept cemetery to find the unmarked grave of the woman he unintentionally killed.

Fugard is best known from his anti-Apartheid plays of the 1970s and 80s including The Island, Sizwe Bansi is Dead (both developed with John Kani and Winston Ntshona) and Master Harold and the Boys. The Train Driver had its world premiere this past March at Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre, the venue newly established in honour of the playwright and his work.


Edward Hall on stage at Hampstead Theatre

For the festive season, director Melly Still will take a fresh look at the eight funny and gruesome fairy tales in Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s Beasts and Beauties, which she first adapted for the stage with Tim Supple at Bristol Old Vic in 2004. Still’s other, highly visual, family productions have included Grimm Tales, More Grimm Tales and, for the National, Coram Boy, which also transferred to Broadway. Beasts and Beauties runs from 15 to 31 December 2010 (previews from 10 December).

The new year opens with the world premiere of Tiger Country, written and directed by Nina Raine and running from 19 January to 5 February 2011 (previews from 13 January). In a frenetic London hospital, the medical staff, fighting both exhaustion and a hierarchical system, must face personal and moral decisions which affect their lives and those of their patients. Raine won the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright for 2006’s Rabbit. Ahead of Tiger Country, she’ll premiere another new play, Tribes, at the Royal Court in October.

Hampstead launches a new partnership with renowned Galway-based theatre company Druid with the London premiere of its third collaboration with multi award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh, Penelope, from 19 January to 5 February 2011. A new interpretation of the story of Penelope and her suitors from Homer’s Odyssey, Walsh’s dark comedy centres on four ridiculous men vying for an unwinnable love as they face their inevitable deaths.

Penelope, directed by Mikel Murfi, has its UK premiere during next month’s Edinburgh Fringe at the Traverse Theatre, where the last two Druid productions of new Enda Walsh plays, The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom also ran ahead of London transfers to the National and Riverside Studios respectively. Walsh’s other plays include Bedbound, Chatroom and Disco Pigs.

The season concludes with Mike Leigh’s early comedy Ecstasy, set in a gruesome bedsit off the Kilburn High Road. First seen at Hampstead in 1979, it’s revived from 15 March to 9 April 2011 (previews from 10 March). The new production marks not only a rare stage return for Leigh but also the first time that the theatre and filmmaker has returned to one of his works. His last stage play Two Thousand Years, which was his first in 12 years, premiered at the National in 2005. Leigh famously launched his relationship with Hampstead with Abigail’s Party, which premiered at 1977 and was revived (by director David Grindley) to close the old Hampstead Theatre in 2002, before transferring to the West End.

Edward Hall, son of former Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre artistic director Sir Peter Hall, was appointed artistic director of Hampstead, succeeding Anthony Clark, this past January. Commenting on his first season of work, Hall said: “I was bowled over to be given responsibility for Hampstead Theatre which is unquestionably one of the finest theatres in the UK. Since January, I have been privileged to meet many leading theatre makers and show them our beautiful and adaptable space, and I\'ve been overjoyed at how many of them have responded positively and have wanted to come and make work for us. Announcing my first season as artistic director of Hampstead Theatre is a very special experience. With writers and directors of the calibre we have secured, I\'m sure the quality of the work will speak for itself. There really is something for everyone and I look forward to the journey we are now embarking on.”