Imelda Staunton (pictured), Eileen Atkins and Matthew Marsh are amongst the actors lined up to star in the next two productions – world premieres of new plays by Charlotte Jones and Frank McGuinness – at north London’s Almeida Theatre (See News, 11 May 2006).

In Jones’ The Lightning Play, which runs from 17 November 2006 to 7 January 2007 (previews from 9 November), Marsh plays Max Villiers, a celebrity ghost writer who, with his talented shopper wife Harriet, is hosting a Halloween party in north London. As Max connects his first plasma TV, the evening is hijacked by interference from the past. There are trick-or-treaters at the door and strangers on the brand new rug.

Matthew Marsh has previously appeared at the Almeida in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and Conversations After a Burial, while his many other credits include The Overwhelming, Copenhagen, The Exonerated, Us and Them and The Little Foxes on stage, and The Commander, Monarch of the Glen, Spy Game and Dirty Weekend on screen.

He’s joined in the Jones play by Eleanor David (Three Women and a Piano Tuner, Arcadia as Harriet, Lloyd Hutchinson (Once in a Lifetime, The Night Season, The Permanent Way, Stones in His Pockets), Katherine Parkinson (TV’s The IT Crowd), Adie Allen, Christina Cole, Simon Kassianides and Orlando Seale. The premiere production is directed by Anna Mackmin and designed by Lez Brotherston.

McGuinness’ There Came a Gypsy Riding, directed by Almeida artistic director Michael Attenborough and designed by Robert Jones, runs from 18 January to 3 March 2007 (previews from 11 January). In it, the McKenna family convenes at their remote west of Ireland holiday home to mark the 21st birthday of their late son Gene. Eccentric cousin Bridget appears, invites herself in for cake, and makes ready to expose a family secret. Even Margaret, the unstoppable mother, and Leo, the ever-calm father, can’t hold things together in the face of an unexpected visit from the past.

Multiple Olivier Award winner Eileen Atkins, who plays Bridget, was last seen on the London stage in last year’s West End production of The Birthday Party. Her other stage credits include Cymbeline, The Unexpected Man, Honour, The Killing of Sister George, A Delicate Balance, Vita and Virginia and, earlier this year on Broadway, Doubt.

Imelda Staunton, who plays Margaret, is now best known for her film work in the likes of Vera Drake, Harry Potter, Bright Young Things, Peter’s Friends and Shakespeare in Love, while her stage credits include Calico, Life x 3, Guys and Dolls, A Chorus of Disapproval and Uncle Vanya.

The cast also features Irish actor Ian McElhinney (Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Pygmies in the Ruins) as Leo, Elaine Cassidy (The Crucible, Scenes from the Big Picture) as Louise and Aidan McArdle (A Prayer for Owen Meaney, Shadow of a Gunman, Shopping and Fucking, TV’s Not Only But Always) as Simon.

Though dates have not yet been announced, further ahead in 2007 Anthony Page is due to direct Ibsen’s 1886 classic Rosmersholm. Currently at the Almeida, Lindsay Posner’s revival of Tom and Viv, Michael Hastings’ 1984 play about the volatile relationship between TS Eliot and his first wife, continues until 4 November 2006. Will Keen and Frances O'Connor play the title characters.

- by Terri Paddock