Ron Moody (pictured), David Tennant, George Layton and Roy North will star in Oxford Stage Company's presentation of Comedians this Autumn. Trevor Griffiths' popular 1970s play opens at Exeter Northcott on 1 October 2001, before moving to Oxford Playhouse from 16 October. Further dates, including a possible West End transfer, are also being considered.

The action concerns six wannabe comedians preparing for a big night on stage. A faded music hall star acts as their tutor, in an age when comedians wore dicky bows and political correctness was decades away. The play has been regarded as a forerunner of the contemporary alternative comedy scene, and was inspired by the 1970s TV show The Comedians. First performed in 1975, the show achieved both West End and Broadway success, launching the American career of Jonathan Pryce.

Moody’s place in the entertainment world’s hall of fame was secured with his role in the screen musical Oliver. His performance as the ragged hero/villain Fagin received an Academy Award nomination. However, his career began as an improvisational humorist, whilst in 1959 he headed the London cast of Bernstein’s Candide. Despite his later success in a wide range of dramas, he is known to remain a comedian at heart, with Griffiths’ play representing something of an appropriate homecoming for him.

David Tennant’s theatre credits include Romeo and Juliet (RSC), King Lear (Royal Exchange) and Vassa (Aldwych). Actor Roy North became known to a generation of TV viewers as Mr Roy, in the popular Basil Brush puppet comedy. George Layton played Bombardier Solomons in TV’s It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and has appeared on stage in Chips with Everything (Broadway), Oliver! (Albery) and in seasons at Nottingham Playhouse and Coventry Belgrade.

Other members of the cast include Richard Simpson (from the original production of Comedians), Stephen Kennedy (The Contractor and The Force of Change for OSC) and Vincenzo Nicoli (Aliens III, Ben Elton’s Popcorn).

Trevor Griffiths was born in Manchester in 1935, and has been described as a socialist dramatist. His 1970 play Occupations was a portrayal of the Italian thinker Gramsci, and arrived in London courtesy of the RSC. Despite broadening his audience and career via television, his theatre output has continued via such works as The Gulf Between Us and Who Shall Be Happy?

Comedians is directed by Sean Holmes and designed by Anthony Lamble with lighting by Simon Bennison.

- by Gareth Thompson