Keira Knightley will make her stage debut playing a spoilt Hollywood film star opposite Damian Lewis in an updated version of Moliere’s 17th-century comedy The Misanthrope. Directed by Thea Sharrock, the production will open on 17 December 2009 (previews from 5 December) at the West End’s Comedy Theatre, where it’s booking until 13 March 2010.

Martin Crimp’s version is set in modern-day London, where Alceste (Lewis) is a famous British playwright disillusioned and angry with the hypocrisy, shallowness and vanity of the contemporary world. Vowing to reject society, Alceste’s plans are derailed when he falls madly in love with Jennifer (Knightley), an ambitious American film star and darling of the social scene, who may prove to be his biggest challenge yet.

Following her success in indie Brit flick Bend it Like Beckham, Keira Knightley has gone on to star in the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy as well as films including Atonement, The Duchess, The Edge of Love, Domino, The Jacket, Love Actually and the upcoming Never Let Me Go and London Boulevard.

The Misanthrope season will coincide with the UK premiere production of Broadway comedy The Little Dog Laughed, in which her real-life partner and fellow screen actor, Rupert Friend, makes his stage debut at the West End’s Garrick Theatre in January, also playing a Hollywood actor (See News, 4 Sep 2009).

The Misanthrope will return Damian Lewis to the London stage for the first time since the 2005 National Theatre production of Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community. His other stage credits at the RSC, Donmar Warehouse and Almeida, include Five Gold Rings and, earlier in his career, Hamlet, Cymbeline Much Ado About Nothing, Into the Woods and School for Wives. He’s now best known for his screen credits including Band of Brothers, Dreamcatcher, Chromophobia, The Forsyte Saga, Jeffrey Archer: The Truth and Hearts and Bones.

Knightley and Lewis are joined in The Misanthrope cast by Tara Fitzgerald (Waking the Dead, I Capture the Castle, Brassed Off, Hear My Song on screen, most recently seen on stage in A Doll’s House on stage), Dominic Rowan (whose extensive stage credits include A Voyage Round My Father, Happy Now, Mourning Becomes Electra, Three Sisters, Lobby Hero and, from next week at the Arcola, A Spanish Tragedy) and Tim McMullan (Burnt by the Sun, Present Laughter, Deep Blue Sea, Theatre of Blood).

Director Thea Sharrock’s recent credits include the Whatsonstage.com Award-winning revival of Equus, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths in the West End and on Broadway, as well as Heroes, A Voyage Round My Father, Happy Now and The Emperor Jones.

The Misanthrope is designed by Hildegard Bechtler and produced by Howard Panter and Tali Pelman for the Ambassador Theatre Group.

Currently at the Comedy Theatre, Simon Bent’s new play about Joe Orton and his lover-murderer Kenneth Halliwell, Prick Up Your Ears, is scheduled to run until 6 December. The production was struck by tragedy on Tuesday when Little Britain star Matt Lucas, who played Halliwell, pulled out of performances “until further notice” while grieving for his former civil partner, Kevin McGee, who committed suicide this week (See News, 6 Oct 2009).