North London’s Almeida Theatre will premiere two more new works in spring 2007. Actor-turned-director Kathy Burke directs Moira Buffini’s new free adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s Soviet Union-banned classic The Suicide and artistic director Michael Attenborough directs the European premiere of the late African-American playwright Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog.

Buffini’s new take on Erdman’s satirical comedy, entitled Dying for It, runs from 15 March to 28 April 2007 (previews from 8 March). It centres on Semyon, who is unemployed, living in a hallway and watching his wife slave away all day. When his last hope to earn a crust and gain some self-respect disappears, he decides to take his life. As word gets out, he’s inundated with visitors wanting him to die on their behalf. On the appointed night, they throw a party.

Written in 1928, five years after Stalin took control of the Communist Party, The Suicide was banned in 1932, before it had had a single public performance. It was not seen in the Soviet Union until 1982.

Buffini’s plays include Dinner, Love Play and Silence. Burke’s directing credits include Out in the Open, Born Bad, Blue/Orange, Betty, The Quare Fellow, The God of Hell and, earlier this year in the West End with Dawn French and Alison Moyet, Smaller. Dying for It is designed by Lez Brotherston, with lighting by Paul Keogan.

Attenborough’s staging of Big White Fog, running from 17 May to 30 June 2007 (previews from 11 May), will mark the first time that Ward’s play will be produced outside the US. Set in Chicago between 1922 and 1933, it follows the journey of members of the Mason family and the pursuit of their own ideological beliefs, as they steer a course through post- World War II racism and the Great Depression. Supported by wife Ella, Vic’s loyalty is to Marcus Garvey’s separatist Back to Africa campaign, while his brother-in-law Dan is committed to the American Dream, believing that the black community can prosper and succeed within the system.

Author of more than 30 plays, Theodore Ward was born in Louisiana in 1902, the sixth child of 11. His father - born into slavery - was the local schoolmaster, his mother - who secretly educated him - died when he was 14. As a result of the break-up of his family, Ward travelled on the railroad as a boy hobo, performing odd jobs wherever he could find them. He finally settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was jailed for selling bootleg gin. After winning second prize in a writing competition, he joined the Chicago Writers’ Workshop, who, in 1938, produced his first full-length play, Big White Fog. The production transferred to Harlem where it was presented as the first play to be staged by the Negro Playwrights’ Company – formed by Ward, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson, amongst others, to provide a working theatre for Negro artists. Ward lived and worked in Chicago from 1968 until his death in 1983.

Big White Fog is designed by Jonathan Fensom, with lighting by Tim Mitchell and sound by John Leonard. Casting for both it and Dying for It has not yet been announced.

Currently at the Almeida (See News, 11 May 2006), Lindsay Posner’s revival of Michael Hastings’ Tom and Viv, starring Will Keen and Frances O'Connor, finishes tomorrow (4 November). It’s followed by two world premieres: Charlotte Jones’ The Lightning Play, starring Matthew Marsh (9 November 2006 to 6 January 2007); and Irishman Frank McGuinness’ There Came a Gypsy Riding, starring Imelda Staunton and Eileen Atkins (11 January to 3 March 2007).

- by Terri Paddock