Only six days until the first public performance of Mike Leigh’s first new stage play in 22 years and there’s still no information about its content. However, Whatsonstage.com can now reveal its name, which will, no doubt, fuel further speculation: it is Two Thousand Years (See The Goss, 25 Aug 2005). It will receive its world premiere at the NT Cottesloe on 15 September 2005 (previews from 8 September).

Last month, the National confirmed that, despite limits of a maximum of four tickets per customer, the entire repertory season to 31 January 2005 at the Cottesloe had already sold out – all 16,000 tickets – although 20 seats are being held back per performance for sale on the day.

Aside from today’s name revelation, the National is sticking to a strict embargo for Two Thousand Years. We’re told, in fact, that no one except those actually in the company have a clue what it’s about. As per Leigh’s usual improvisational style, he and his eight-strong cast - John Burgess, Ben Caplan, Allan Corduner, Adam Godley, Caroline Gruber, Nitzan Sharron, Samantha Spiro and Alexis Zegerman – have been devising the piece and exploring character together in private since 25 April 2005. (The writer/director requires a minimum of 18 weeks’ rehearsal time).

The secrecy has sparked off myriad rumours and predictions. Actress Miriam Margolyes, who auditioned for a part, told a newspaper it was about “being Jewish” while the poster image, a drooping palm tree in a desert, has had others guessing it may be an anti-war piece. When asked what content would be included in the (normally packed) NT programmes for Two Thousand Years, a show spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com that it would probably only be biographies – though that couldn’t be confirmed due to the embargo.

Now best known for his films, including last year’s award-winning Vera Drake, this is Leigh’s first new stage play since 1993’s It’s a Great Big Shame at Theatre Royal Stratford East. His earlier plays include Babies Grow Old, Goosepimples and, of course, Abigail’s Party, while his other films include Naked, Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy and All or Nothing.

- by Terri Paddock