Alan Rickman will play opposite Helen Mirren in Sean Mathias' production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, which opens at the National Theatre for a limited season from 20 October to 3 December 1998 (previews from 12 October). Alan Bates, last seen at the Aldwych Theatre in Simon Gray's Life Support, had been originally touted for the part of Antony, the Roman hero. Antony and Cleopatra follows the National's hugely successful production of Oklahoma! into the Olivier Theatre.

One of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies and one of history's greatest love stories, Antony and Cleopatra spans the entire Mediterranean world - the epic scale of the political events the two main characters are caught up in contrasting with the intimacy of their passion. The play has only been staged once before at the National (by Peter Hall in 1987).

Both Rickman and Mirren will be making their National débuts in the production. It will be Mirren's first time on stage since 1994, though it is her third time as Cleopatra. She first played the ill-fated Queen of Egypt at the Old Vic Theatre when she was only 20 and repeated it, opposite Michael Gambon, for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1983.

Mirren is a renowned classical actress, having played many leading Shakespearean roles for the RSC. Her film work includes The Madness of King George for which she won a Palme D'Or Award and a 1994 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Mosquito Coast, The Long Good Friday and the forthcoming The Passion of Ayn Rand and The Killing of Mrs Tingle. She is best known to television audiences for her character D.C.I. Jane Tennison in five Prime Suspect dramas for which she has won four BAFTA Best Actress Awards and an Emmy Best Actress Award.

Rickman also has a firm classical grounding, with leading RSC roles including Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (also in the West End and on Broadway) for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. His extensive theatre work also includes Hamlet (Riverside Studios/ national tour), Tango at the End of Winter (Edinburgh Festival/ West End), The Devil is an Ass and Measure for Measure (Birmingham Rep) and The Lucky Chance, The Grass Widow and The Seagull (Royal Court). International film credits include Die Hard, Truly, Madly, Deeply, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Bob Roberts, An Awfully Big Adventure, Sense and Sensibility, Michael Collins and the forthcoming Judas Kiss, Dark Harbour and Dogma.

Rickman and Mirren are joined by Finbar Lynch (Enobarbus), Raad Rawi (Lepidus) and Samuel West (Octavius Caesar). Lynch has also worked extensively for the RSC and was most recently seen at the National as Canary Jim in Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales and as Edmund in King Lear. Samuel West returns to the National where he was last seen in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

Director Sean Mathias' recent work for the National includes Les Parents Terribles (also on Broadway as Indiscretions) for which he won the Evening Standard and Critics' Circle Awards for Best Director, Uncle Vanya, A Little Night Music and Bent. His other directorial work includes Marlene in the West End.

Set design for Antony and Cleopatra is by Tim Hatley with costumes by David Belugou, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by James Wood, movement by Wayne McGregor and sound by Paul Groothuis.

In other National casting news, Antony Sher has withdrawn from the world premiere of Terry Johnson's new play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, which portrays the less glamorous side of the film business à la Carry On. The play, now scheduled to open 21 September (previews from 5 September), will star Geoffrey Hutchings in the role of Sidney. Hutchings appeared earlier this year in the National's revival of Mikhail Bulgakov's Flight. He is joined by Adam Godley as Kenneth, Samantha Spiro as Barbara, Gina Bellman, Jacqueline Defferary, and Kenneth MacDonald. Johnson directs.