As previously tipped (See The Goss, 14 Jun 2005), Dame Judi Dench (pictured) will return to the West End – and more specifically, the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she last appeared with fellow Dame Maggie Smith in David Hare’s sell-out The Breath of Life in 2002 – in the New Year to star in Sir Peter Hall’s new production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. Though exact dates have not yet been set, according to today's Daily Mail, the comedy is due to open in April 2006.

In Hay Fever, bohemian actress Judith Bliss (Dench) and her writer husband live in a rural haven with their precocious son and daughter. When various guests are invited down for the weekend, they become pawns in the family’s emotional, madcap games.

First performed in 1925, the comedy of manners was inspired by the eccentric American actress Laurette Taylor, and her husband Hartley, and written by Coward in just three days. It was last seen in the West End at the Savoy in 1999 production directed by Declan Donnellan and starring Geraldine McEwan as Judith.

The new revival will reunite Dench with director Hall, who she last worked with on The Royal Family, also at the Haymarket, in 2001. Dench has been seen most recently in the West End last year in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of All's Well That Ends Well, for which she won a Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress. She’s due to return to the RSC’s Stratford home in late 2006 to appear in a musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor as part of the company’s year-long Complete Works Festival (See News, 11 Jul 2005).

Peter Bowles, who co-starred in The Royal Family with Dench, is signed up to appear opposite her in the new production, which will also feature Belinda Lang. The production marks another reunion as well – for Hall and his one-time producer Bill Kenwright. Hall and Kenwright teamed up regularly in the 1990s, presenting 16 plays in seven years. But the pair famously fell out when Hall signed up to another producer’s revival of Amadeus at the Old Vic in 1998 and have not worked together since.

- by Terri Paddock