Former James Bond Timothy Dalton will make a rare stage appearance later this year to star in the National's much-anticipated stage adaptation of Philip Pullman's award-winning children's book trilogy His Dark Materials. Other cast members newly confirmed today for the 30-strong cast of the two-part epic include Patricia Hodge and Niamh Cusack.

Based on Pullman's award-winning trilogy of children's fantasy novels, the stage version of His Dark Materials is adapted by Nicholas Wright and directed by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner. It will receive its world premiere at the NT Olivier on 20 December 2003, following previews from 4 December (See News, 19 Aug 2003).

The Welsh-born Dalton (pictured), who plays the evil Lord Asriel, is a classical stage veteran, having appeared with the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Prunella Scales in numerous 1970s and 80s productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Timothy West's Prospect Theatre, including Love's Labour's Lost, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, The Taming of the Shrew and Henry IV, Parts I & II.

In 1987, he became internationally famous as James Bond, starring in two of 007 thrillers, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Dalton's last major London stage outing was 15 years ago in the 1988 production of Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet which transferred from the Young Vic to the West End.

Patricia Hodge (who plays Mrs Coulter) was seen in the National 1999 revivals of Noises Off and Money, for which she won an Olivier for Best Supporting Actress. Niamh Cusack (Serafina Pekkala) is currently appearing in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of The Merchant of Venice.

His Dark Materials is a coming of age and a transforming spiritual experience for Lyra and Will (played by Anna Maxwell Martin and Dominic Cooper). Their great quest demands a savage struggle against the most dangerous of enemies. They encounter fantastical creatures in parallel worlds - rebellious angels, soul-eating spectres, child-catching Gobblers and the armoured bears and witch-clans of the Arctic. Finally, before reaching, perhaps, the republic of heaven, they must visit the land of the dead.

The cast also includes Samuel Barnett, John Carlisle, Patrick Godfrey, Stephen Greif, Jamie Harding, Akbar Khurta, Inika Leigh Wright, Helen Lymbery, Tim McMullan, Helen Murton, Cecilia Noble, Nick Sampson, Danny Sapani, Jason Thorpe, Russell Tovey, Ben Whishaw, Ben Wright and Richard Youman.

Philip Pullman's original trilogy comprises Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. In addition to other awards, the last title in the series won both Whitbread Children's Book of the Year and Whitbread Book of the Year, the first children's book to win the main prize in the award's history.

According to NT promotional material, the theatrical version "will be an epic production both in its narrative scope and its staging, involving artists from new technologies as well as old, and aims to create an experience as meaningful for 12-year-olds as for adults." It's designed by Giles Cadle with costumes by Jon Morrell, puppets by Michael Curry, lighting by Paule Constable, choreography by Aletta Collins, music by Jonathan Dove, fights by Terry King and sound by Paul Groothuis.

- by Terri Paddock