As previously predicted in The Goss (See 11 Nov & 16 Oct 2002), the world premiere production of David Hare's The Breath of Life, starring Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, has extended its strictly limited, sell-out season in the West End.

The play opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 15 October 2002 (previews from 3 October) and had been scheduled to conclude on 21 December 2002. Now, following a Christmas break, the Dames will return in the new year for a further four weeks of performances from 1 January to 1 February 2003.

The production marks the first time that Smith and Dench, the two grand dames of British acting, have starred together in the West End, though they did meet early in their careers in the RSC ensemble at the Old Vic and have appeared together in two films - A Room with a View and Tea with Mussolini.

In The Breath of Life, Dench and Smith play two women whose lives are interwoven in ways neither of them yet understand. Madeleine Palmer (Smith) is a retired curator, living alone on the Isle of Wight. One day, Angela Beale (Dench) - a popular novelist whom she's met only once before - turns up at her door. The progress of a single night comes to echo the hidden course of their lives.

The Breath of Life is directed by Howard Davies, designed by William Dudley and produced by Robert Fox. The Dames are expected to transfer the play to Broadway in the spring, while rumour has it that the West End production may extend with two new leading ladies.

- by Terri Paddock