Actress Fiona Shaw will direct the Royal National Theatre s production of George Bernard Shaw s first play, Widowers' Houses, which begins an extensive four-month tour throughout the UK and Ireland next month. The tour kicks off 7 October at Canterbury s Gulbenkian Theatre and continues until 5 February 2000 to 22 other venues. It will play at the National s Cottesloe Theatre in London in early January 2000.

Widowers' Houses was first performed in 1892 and tackles issues of greed, poverty and social inequality in Victorian England through the story of a young doctor who falls in love with a woman whose fortune has been made out of the slums. Conscience and capitalism clash in the play which first made Bernard Shaw s name as a socialist writer. The author himself described Widowers' Houses as an exposé of ‘middle class respectability and younger son gentility fattening on the poverty of the slum as flies fatten on filth .

Fiona Shaw was last seen on stage at the National playing the title role in last year s revival of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Her previous acting roles for the National include The Way of the World, The Good Person of Sichuan, Machinal and the controversial title role in Shakespeare s Richard II. Her directing credits include The Hamlet Project, a touring production for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Widowers' Houses will be her directing debut for the National.

Mobile tours are initiated by the National s education department and the productions form part of the theatre s repertoire. Previous mobile productions have included Mother Courage and Her Children, Billy Liar, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and, most recently, Joan Littlewood s Oh What a Lovely War, which traversed the country in a circus tent prior to transferring to the London s Roundhouse last summer.

Accompanying the production will be a full education programme which will explore how drama can be used to highlight social issues and will draw parallels between Widowers' Houses and other Bernard Shaw plays.