Ian Brown officially inaugurates his reign as artistic director of Leeds' West Yorkshire Playhouse with the opening tonight (6 November 2002, previews from 25 October) of his much-anticipated production of Hamlet, starring British screen star Christopher Eccleston (pictured), in his first professional Shakespeare stage role.

Brown's appointment as artistic director and chief executive was announced in May. Formerly artistic director of Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre and a WYP associate director, Brown now takes over from outgoing leader Jude Kelly, who leaves after 12 years in the job.

Born in Salford in 1964, actor Christopher Eccleston has made his name with his many gritty roles on film and television, which have included David in Shallow Grave, the title role in Jude, the Duke of Norfolk in Elizabeth and, on the small screen, Sergeant Bilborough in Cracker and Nicky in Our Friends in the North.

Amongst Eccleston's other recent screen credits are 24 Hour Party People, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Others, Hillsborough, Clocking Off, Hearts and Minds and Linda Green.

Eccleston made his professional debut at the age of 25 in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Bristol Old Vic and was last seen on stage two and a half years ago in the West End revival of Strindberg's Miss Julie. He now follows in the footsteps of acclaimed contemporaries such as Samuel West, Simon Russell Beale and Paul Rhys in tackling Hamlet, Shakespeare's classic tragedy of corruption, madness, betrayal and murder.

In the cast of the WYP's Hamlet - which Brown has set in an Eastern European-style state of the 1920s - Eccleston is joined by Brigit Forsyth (as Gertrude), Kevin McMonagle (Polonius), Malcolm Scates (Claudius), Neil McKinven (Horatio) and Maxine Peake (Ophelia). The production is designed by Angela Davies, with lighting by Tim Mitchell and sound by Mic Pool.

- by Terri Paddock