Manchester Royal Exchange’s new autumn/winter season features old classics with a northern theme in the main house, alongside two UK premieres in the studio.

The two plays that bookend the main house season are Kes and Rutherford and Son. Both set in northern towns in different periods of the 20th century, they are directed by Sarah Frankcom, who was responsible for the Exchange's successful production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice in January of this year.

Kes - which opens the season on 13 September 2004 (previews 8 September) - is based on the Barry Hines novel A Kestrel for a Knave. Set in Barnsley, it revolves around the life of an isolated young boy, Billy Casper, and relates how his relationship with a kestrel brings hope to his impoverished existence. Made famous by Ken Loach's 1969 film, this version is adapted for the stage by Lawrence Till and stars William Beck and Jane Hazlegrove.

Kes closes on 16 October and is followed by artistic director Greg Hersov's production of Volpone (from 20 October to 27 November 2004). Written by Ben Jonson and set in the Jacobean underworld, it concerns the dealings of two con artists, Volpone and his sidekick Mosca. Swindling all and sundry, they’re the perfect double act, until a woman gets involved and the two turn against each another with amusing consequences.

Dion Boucicault's London Assurance will be the Christmas show from 1 December 2004 to 15 January 2005. One of the most flamboyant writers of 19th-century theatre, Boucicault's farcical London Assurance recounts the trials of Sir Harcourt Courtly, who decides to take a young bride only to discover he and his son are in love with the same woman. Director Jacob Murray's other Royal Exchange credits include Great Expectations.

The final show in the main house will be Rutherford and Son (19 January - 19 February 2005) again directed by Frankcom. Written by Githa Sowerby in 1912, a few years earlier than Hobson's Choice, it concerns similar themes, dealing with the struggle between father and son for control within their family.

Meanwhile in the studio theatre two UK premieres conclude 2004. The first is A Conversation by Australian playwright David Williamson. Jacob Murray directs this piece, in which the family of a murdered daughter meet her killer's parents. Billed as a hard-hitting drama about penalty and redemption, it runs from 22 September to 9 October 2004.

The second premiere is Kelly Stuart's Mayhem, from 10 to 27 November 2004. Directed by Tim Stark, it’s set in the days leading up to 9/11 and looks at one American woman's struggle to come to terms with her new view of the world and her own country's place within it.

2005 in the studio opens with The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek (19 January to 19 February 2005). Written by acclaimed American playwright Naomi Wallace, it received its London premiere in May 2003 at the Southwark Playhouse. It’s the Great Depression, and Dalton and Pace are two bright, sexually charged, yet disaffected teenagers. Their lives feel so pointless that they need the thrill of playing chicken - trying to outrun a freight train on a trestle 100 feet above a dry creek bed - to make them feel alive. The production is presented by the same team responsible for the Southwark version, ex nihilo theatre, with direction by Raz Shaw.

- by Hannah Kennedy