Olivier Award winner David Bamber will star in the long-awaited British premiere of Terrence McNally's opera-inspired 1985 play The Lisbon Traviata, which opens for a limited six-week season at north London's King's Head Theatre on 17 November 2003, continuing to 21 December (previews from 11 November).

Bamber plays opera buff Mendy, who begs his friend Stephen, a blocked playwright whose partner Mike is cheating on him, to borrow his pirated recording of diva Maria Callas singing La Traviata at a performance in Lisbon, Portugal. Beneath their aficionado banter, both men are deeply unhappy, trapped in an operatic world where contrived passions become a neurotic substitute for real life. But later, reality arrives with stunning force as Stephen confronts his partner Mike and Mike's new lover, Paul, while trying to salvage his dying relationship.

Bamber won the Best Actor Olivier for My Night With Reg, which he originated at the Royal Court and later filmed. His other stage credits The Merchant of Venice, On the Razzle, Peter Pan, Honk! and, last year in the West End The Glee Club.

In the cast of The Lisbon Traviata, Bamber is joined by Marcus D'Amico (as Stephen), who was nominated for an Olivier for Angels in America at the National and whose other credits include An Inspector Calls, The Boy Next Door, Design for Living and, on television, Armistead Maupin's cult gay TV miniseries Tales of the City; London Burning's Tristan Gemmill (as Mike) and newcomer Matthew Thrift (as Paul).

Pulitzer Prize and four-time Tony Award winner McNally has previously found inspiration in the life of Callas with his Master Class. His many other award-winning plays include Love! Valour! Compassion!, A Perfect Ganesh, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Corpus Christi and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. He's also written the books for such hit musicals as Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Visit, Ragtime, The Full Monty and A Man of No Importance.

The London production of The Lisbon Traviata will be directed by Stephen Henry whose previous credits include McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! and the 1999 European premiere of his highly controversial Corpus Christi as well as the recent West End revival of Julian Mitchell's Another Country.

The Lisbon Traviata will be designed by Lisa Lillywhite, with lighting by Hartley TA Kemp and sound by Sebastian Frost. The Theatre 28 production is produced by Kevin Wilson and Sarah Earl.

- by Terri Paddock