Mike Leigh’s first new stage play in 12 years, Two Thousand Years receives its world premiere at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre tonight (Thursday 15 September 2005), and expectations are high after Leigh cancelled two previews in order to give the company more time to prepare See {News 7 Sep 2005).

The devised play has been a hot topic for fans of Leigh’s work, as even the title of the play was kept secret until Whatsonstage.com revealed the name just six days before the first scheduled public performance (see News 2 Sep 2005). Earlier speculation that the play would deal with the war in Iraq was proved wrong by audience members at the belated first preview on Saturday (September 10 2005), and actress Miriam Margolyes, who auditioned for a part, was closer to the mark when she told a newspaper that it was about “being Jewish”.

Leigh has now put rumours to rest by giving an account of his new play in his own words, ahead of tonight’s press night. The play is, in fact, a domestic drama that revolves around the strained relationships in a Jewish family. The liberal-minded parents are shocked when their son becomes religious. But which views are more rigid: the staunchly non-secular ones or those of a new-found faith?

Leigh said: “Two Thousand Years concerns the lives and relationships of three generations in a contemporary London Jewish middle-class family. The play explores, in a gentle tragi-comic way, a wide range of issues, including politics, religion, identity and the vexed question of Israel and the Middle East.”

The eight-strong cast includes Allan Corduner, Adam Godley and Samantha Spiro, and the already sold-out run continues to 31 January 2006.

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 Caroline Ansdell