The National Theatre's autumn season includes the world premieres of four new plays, plus a revival of an 18th-century British comedy, with casts that include Ralph Fiennes, Jodhi May, Ian Holm, Lia Williams, Harriet Walter and Penny Downie.

Fiennes will star in a new play by Christopher Hampton, The Talking Cure, directed by Howard Davies and opening in the Cottesloe on 12 December, following previews from 6 December. Fiennes, who last appeared at the National in 1987 but has since forged an international stage and screen career with the Almeida Theatre and in such films as Schindler's List, The English Patient and The End of the Affair, will play psycho-analyst Jung in the play that deals with his early years, as he experiments with a young Russian patient, Sabine Speilrein, using Freud's controversial new methods of psycho-analysis. Speilrein will be played by Jodhi May, making her debut at the National but whose extensive body of film work includes The Last of the Mohicans, Sister My Sister (for which she won the Best Actress Aard at Cannes) and The Woodlanders. James Hazledine, most recently seen at the National as the father Joe Keller in Howard Davies's production of All My Sons, plays Freud. Davies won the 2001 Olivier Award for Best Director for that production, and subsequently directed the West End revival of Private Lives with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan that transferred to Broadway earlier this year.

Sir Ian Holm returns to the National, where he gave a multiple award-winning performance in the title role of King Lear (taking Best Actor awards in the Evening Standard, Critics' Circle and Olivier ceremonies), to lead the cast of Shelagh Stephenson's debut play for the National, Mappa Mundi. It also runs in the Cottesloe, opening on 24 October, following previews from 18 October. The play, which also features Tim McInnerny and Lia Williams, follows the journey of a man coming to terms with the parameters of his life. Stephenson's previous plays include The Memory of Water (first seen at Hampstead Theatre and subsequently in the West End, where it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2000), An Experiment with an Air Pump, Ancient Lights and Five Kinds of Silence. It is directed by Bill Alexander, who recently revived his Birmingham Rep pr oduction of Bryony Lavery's Frozen at the Cottesloe.

The life of the studio Loft theatre in the Lyttelton circle foyer is being extended beyond the current Transformation season to accommodate the premiere of Moira Buffini's Dinner, directed by the author with a cast that includes Penny Downie, Nicholas Farrell and Harriet Walter, as an artist, scientist and sexpot who come to dinner. It opens in the Loft Theatre on 18 November, following previews from 14 November.

Co-productions with Out-of-Joint bring a revival of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer alongside a new play by April de Angelis, A Laughing Matter, which goes behind-the-scenes of Goldsmith's comedy. A single ensemble company under the direction of Max Stafford-Clark, performs them in repertoire with press performances for both plays on 17 December, following previews from 30 November.

- Mark Shenton