Actor Douglas Hodge, considered one of the foremost performers of the work of Harold Pinter, will make his directorial debut in the new year, directing Pinter's The Dumb Waiter.

The new production, starring Jason Watkins (A Servant to Two Masters) and Olivier Award winner Toby Jones (The Play What I Wrote), will open at the Oxford Playhouse, where it runs from 12 to 28 February 2004, ahead of a regional tour and anticipated West End transfer.

Pinter's darkly comic fourth play, first staged in 1960 at the Hampstead Theatre Club, centres on Ben and Gus, two apparent hit men, who are waiting in a Birmingham basement for instructions on their next assignment.

In the Oxford Playhouse staging, The Dumb Waiter will be presented with Pinter's short play Victoria Station as well as a collection of rarely performed sketches in a celebration of the dramatist's early work.

Over the past decade, Hodge has appeared in major productions of Pinter's The Collection, The Lover, Betrayal, Moonlight, No Man's Land and The Caretaker, for which he was nominated for an Olivier in 2000. He was most recently seen in the West End this past spring in Michael Blakemore's production of Three Sisters.

The in-house production of The Dumb Waiter coincides with Oxford Playhouse's appointment of two new artistic associates, husband and wife David Aukin and Nancy Meckler. A former artistic director of Hampstead Theatre, Aukin is an independent film and theatre producer. Meckler has been artistic director of renowned touring troupe Shared Experience since 1987.

- by Terri Paddock