Joanna Lumley will return to the stage for the first time in more than a decade to play Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard at Sheffield Crucible, where, also confirmed today, Olivier Award winner Eve Best will play Rosalind in artistic director Samuel West’s new production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in the new year.

Best known for TV’s Absolutely Fabulous (pictured as hard-drinking, chain-smoking Patsy) and The New Avengers, Lumley’s previous stage credits include The End of Me Old Cigar, Private Lives, Noël and Gertie, Hedda Gabler, Blithe Spirt, An Ideal Husband and, at London’s Lyric Hammersmith in 1995, The Letter.

In Chekhov’s 1904 Russian classic, Madame Ranevskaya returns from Paris as the family estate, including her beloved orchard, is about to be sold to pay off mounting debts. The Cherry Orchard is directed by Jonathan Miller, who himself returns to the theatrical stage after a long absence (See News, 4 Aug 2006), and runs from 20 March to 7 April 2007 (previews from 14 March).

The Chekhov is preceded, from 7 to 24 February 2007 (previews from 31 January), by As You Like It (See News, 17 May 2006). Following its Sheffield dates, West’s production will transfer to Stratford-upon-Avon in March as part of the RSC’s year-long Complete Works Festival.

Best won a hat trick of Best Actress awards for her title performance in last year’s Almeida staging of Hedda Gabler. Next month in the West End, she stars opposite Kevin Spacey in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten (See News, 9 Jun 2006), which is at the Old Vic from 26 September to 23 December 2006 (previews from 15 September). Her other stage credits include Mourning Becomes Electra, The Coast of Utopia, The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and The Heiress.

Leading ladies have also been confirmed for upcoming productions at the Young Vic and the National Theatre, where Anne-Marie Duff and Charlotte Emmerson will return to star in The Soldier's Fortune and Thérèse Raquin respectively.

In rep at the NT Lyttelton from 13 November 2006 (previews from 4 November), Emmerson will take the title role in Emile Zola’s 19th-century tale of lust and murder Thérèse Raquin, in a version by Nicholas Wright directed by Marianne Elliott. She plays opposite the already announced Ben Daniels as Laurent, the lover with whom she plots to murder her husband (See News, 21 Aug 2006). Emmerson was seen in the West End last year in The Postman Always Rings Twice; her previous NT credits include The Coast of Utopia, The Cherry Orchard and Baby Doll.

Emmerson is about to open at Watford Palace in a production of DH Lawrence’s The Daughter in Law which, coincidentally, was the play that last brought Anne-Marie Duff to the Young Vic in 2002. Thomas Otway’s rarely performed Restoration comedy The Soldier's Fortune - running at the soon-to-be-reopened Young Vic from 22 February to 31 March 2007 (previews from 15 February) – reunites Duff with the theatre’s artistic director David Lan (See News, 5 Jul 2006).

Set in 1680, The Soldier's Fortune revolves around Beaugard and Courtine who, returning empty-handed to London from wars abroad, hit upon a scheme to improve their fortunes. Best known to TV fans for her roles in Shameless and The Virgin Queen, Duff’s other stage credits include A Doll’s House, Collected Stories, Playboy of the Western World and, most recently, Days of Wine and Roses last year at the Donmar Warehouse.

- by Terri Paddock