Nigel Hawthorne takes the title role in the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest outing of King Lear. The production, co-produced by the RSC with Thelma Holt and the Sainokuni Shakespeare company of Japan and directed by Yukio Ninagawa, premieres this week at the Saitama Arts Centre in Japan before transferring to the Barbican Centre in London on 22 October. It continues at the Barbican until 20 November then transfers to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford for its final run from 3 December 1999 to 26 February 2000.

Hawthorne's stage credits include the lead role of writer C S Lewis in 1989's Shadowlands and the not-so-mad king in the National's production of Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III in 1991. Hawthorne went on to star in the film version of the latter. His other film credits include Gandhi, Amistad, The Object of My Affection and, soon to be released, The Clandestine Marriage and The Winslow Boy. He is perhaps best known in the UK for his TV role as Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.

King Lear is directed by Japanese director Ninagawa, whose many productions have toured the globe. His last production in this country was Hamlet in 1998 which starred the Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada in the title role. Sanada will play the Fool in this production of King Lear.

The cast also includes William Armstrong, Christopher Benjamin, John Carlisle, Simon Chandler, Michael Maloney, Nicolas Tennant, Sian Thomas, Robin Weaver and Anna Chancellor. King Lear is designed by Yukio Horio with music composed by Ryudo Uzaki.

The title role of King Lear has always been a big draw for well-established actors, as other recent productions have proved. Tom Courtenay is currently starring in the Royal Exchange's Lear, directed by Gregory Hersov, in Manchester. And 1997 saw two big name productions - Alan Howard directed by Sir Peter Hall at the Old Vic and Ian Holm directed by Sir Richard Eyre at the National. The latter achieved a virtual 'grand slam' of the major London theatre awards that year, winning Best Actor awards for Holm and Best Director awards for Eyre at the Evening Standard Drama, Critics Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards.