Joseph Marcell - the British star of American sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air which shot Will Smith to Hollywood fame – will join the cast in the UK premiere of August Wilson’s acclaimed African American drama King Hedley II. The play, a co-production with the Birmingham Rep and London's fringe Tricycle Theatre, will run in Birmingham from 14 November to 7 December 2002, before transferring for a limited London run from 10 December to 8 February 2003.

The British-born Marcell (who plays Elmore) is a classically reared actor who regularly performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company before being cast as the lugubrious butler Geoffrey in the 1990s American TV series. He’s joined in the cast by Nicholas Monu (a member of the RSC where he recently starred in Oronoko) as King Hedley, Pat Bowie (Ruby), Rakie Ayola (Tonya) and Eddie Nestor (Stool Pigeon).

The UK outing of King Hedley II follows last year’s award-winning run of Wilson’s Jitney at the National Theatre. It is the eighth in Wilson's series of plays chronicling each decade of the 20th-century Black American experience.

The play premiered in Pittsburgh in 2000 and then toured the US before a Broadway season last year. Last year's transfer of Jitney to the National added an Olivier award to Wilson's collection of two Pulitzer Prizes, seven New York Drama Critics Awards and a Tony Award.

Set in 1985 in The Hill District, a Black American neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, King Hedley II shows a man planting seeds in the shadowed dirt of an urban backyard. His name, King Hedley II, is full of pride but his life is full of troubles. Having killed a man and served his time, he can't get a job and, instead, scratches out a living on petty scams.

The production is directed by Paulette Randall (who previously directed Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running - also part of his 20th century chronicle - at the Tricycle) and designed by Niki Turner.

- by Terri Paddock