The Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT), traditionally a receiving house during the Winter, celebrates its 40th anniversary next year with a commitment to producing its own drama all year round. For the first time in the venue's history, the Minerva Theatre will offer a continuous programme of work created internally, although non-dramatic offerings from outside will still find a welcome.

The theatre has successfully negotiated long-term funding partnerships with both national and regional bodies, including the National Lottery and West Sussex County Council. A spokesperson told "This is the first time we have received sufficient funding to enable the Minerva to fulfil its artistic goals, and give it a greater hold over the quality provided. This is very much a look to the future and although we will still receive productions, all dramas will be produced in-house from now on."

The Autumn and Winter 2001/2002 season features the British premiere of Tennessee Williams' drama Stairs to the Roof. Also included is the world premiere of John Mortimer's comedy Hock and Soda Water, commissioned by the Festival Theatre. The touring production of The Pirates of Penzance, starring Gary Wilmot and Su Pollard, is set to arrive alongside Wayne Sleep's appearance in Ready, Steady, Dance.

Stairs to the Roof plays at the Minerva from 3 October 2001. Aidan McArdle stars in a story set around 1941, with the world at war and civilisation collapsing. A clerk working for a large corporation stages a one-man rebellion against his monotonous life, and meets a girl with similar inclinations and a desire for escape.

Dublin-born McArdle trained at RADA, and his theatre credits include Flight Into Egypt (Hampstead), The Iceman Cometh (Dublin Abbey) plus the title role in Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Lucy Bailey, whose hit production of Williams' Baby Doll transferred from Birmingham Rep to the National Theatre and West End, will direct.

John Mortimer is best-known as the creator of Rumpole, the popular televison legal character. The best-selling writer's Hock and Soda Water portrays a man in later life who is transported back to key episodes in his life. Christopher Morahan directs, having recently produced the CFT's acclaimed The Winslow Boy and Hock opens on 14 November 2001.

Also forthcoming at the two venues are stand-up comedians Al Murray (aka The Pub Landlord) and Jeremy Hardy. Elsewhere, the Polish State Opera Krakow present Bizet's Carmen, Bob Carlton's Return to the Forbidden Planet tour calls by, the CFT Youth Theatre present Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle and the world premiere of One Snowy Night (for children) plays from 13 December 2001.

The CFT's first Artistic Director was Sir Laurence Olivier, with Sam Mendes initially occupying the same position at the Minerva. The venue stages a biennial community production, involving hundreds of local people, and The Barchester Chronicles director Roger Redfarn will oversee next year's offering based on the Civil War in Chichester.

- by Gareth Thompson