Alan Howard will star in Sean O'Brien's new play Keepers of the Flame. The first-ever co-production between the Royal Shakespeare Company and Newcastle's Live Theatre, it runs from 4 November to 6 December 2003, the opening production in the RSC's 27th annual residency in the Tyne and Wear city.

Billed as "a grim, exciting tale of love, death, art and politics", Keepers of the Flame tells the story of Richard Jameson, an extreme right-wing English poet of the 1930s who, as a member of the British Fascist Party, narrowly escaped execution during the Second World War. Fifty years on, Jameson is an old widower living in the ruins of a great house on the Northumberland coast, writing his memoirs and awaiting death. But enemies past and present are closing in.

Howard (pictured) is a stage veteran whose work includes Lulu and The Play About the Baby (Almeida); The Heiress, Flight and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the National; King Lear and Waiting for Godot for Peter Hall at the Old Vic; and for the RSC, Coriolanus, Richard II and Good (RSC). Amongst Howard's film and television work credits are The Secret Rapture and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and David Copperfield.

An award-winning poet himself, in 2001/2, Sean O'Brien served as a writer in residence at Live, writing two plays for the company, Laughter When We're Dead and From the Underworld. Last year, he adapted Aristophanes' The Birds, which played at the National Theatre as part of the Transformation season of premieres.

Keepers of the Flame, directed by Max Roberts, will be staged at Live Theatre. The rest of the RSC's Newcastle season will comprise six productions first seen this year at its Stratford home: Measure for Measure, Richard III and Titus Andronicus will be mounted at the Theatre Royal; while As You Like It, Cymbeline and The Tamer Tamed, John Fletcher's sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, will play at the Newcastle Playhouse.

Back in Stratford-upon-Avon, the RSC has announced two new productions that will be staged next month at The Other Place, both of them directed by assistant directors who contributed to many of the above-mentioned productions.

Tom Daley (who assisted on As You Like It, The Tamer Tamed and Cymbeline) will direct Peter Whelan's The School of Night, about the last days in the life of Christopher Marlowe, which will be performed on 17 and 20 October 2003.

And Ellie Jones (who assisted on Measure for Measure, Richard III and Titus Andronicus as well as The Taming of the Shrew) will direct Birdsong, James Saunders' absurdist drama set in an oversized birdcage, which will be performed 13, 16 and 20 October.

- by Terri Paddock