London's National Theatre has announced two new productions for early next year. They are Alexander Ostrovsky's Russian tragi-comedy, The Forest, written in 1870, will be staged in a new version by Alan Ayckbourn, in the Lyttelton Theatre from January 22 (press night: January 28). The second is the world premiere of a new play by Nick Darke, The Riot, will be staged in a co-production between the National and the Kneehigh Theatre of Corrnwall, in the Cottesloe Theatre from February 4 (press night: February 11).

The Forest, one of Russia's most celebrated comedies, is virtually unknown in Britain. Concerning an impoverished actor, Gennady, who seeks peace and refuge at the country estate of his aunt Raisa, the play concerns the web of intrigue he finds himself in as a result, involving forbidden love, spying, treachery, lust, greed and financial double-dealings. It will be directed by Anthony Page, whose work includes the National Theatre's production of Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell, the West End productions of two plays by Edward Albee (both starring Maggie Smith), Three Tall Women and A Delicate Balance, and Janet McTeer in Ibsen's A Doll's House in the West End and subsequently on Broadway.

The role of Gennady will be played by Michael Feast, most recently seen at Hampstead Theatre in Timberlake Wertenbaker's After Darwin, and before that for the RSC in Faust I & II, Murder in the Cathedral and Measure for Measure. At the National, he has appeared in productions of The Tempest, No Man's Land and American Buffalo. The role of Raisa will be played by Frances de la Tour, most recently seen in the Almeida's world premiere production of Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby, and before that in the West End production of Albee's Three Tall Women (also directed by Anthony Page) and the National's productions of Stephen Poliakoff's Blinded by the Sun and Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles. The cast also includes Julie Legrand, Royce Mills and Michael Williams (actor husband of Judi Dench, making his belated National Theatre debut).

The Riot, set in Cornwall, is co-produced with that area's Kneehigh Theatre, founded in 1980 and since established as one of Britain's most exciting small-scale touring companies. The company's founder, Mike Shepherd, directs, as he has all of Nick Darke's previous plays for the company, including The King of Prussia (subsequently seen at the Donmar Warehouse), Koyt and Bogus. Darke's The Dead Monkey, first staged by the RSC in 1986, is currently being revived in the West End in a new production starring David Soul, at the Whitehall Theatre. The new play concerns a riot that develops between rival towns following a dispute amongst fishermen over Sunday observance.

In other National Theatre news, it has been confirmed that RSC stalwart David Troughton will lead the cast of their Christmas production of Peter Pan, playing the role of Captain Hook that was taken last year by Ian McKellen. The National Theatre stalwart Michael Bryant assumes the role of Storyteller. Performances begin in the Olivier Theatre from December 10.

Mark Shenton