North London's powerhouse Almeida Theatre continue their West End residency at London's Albery Theatre with a return season of the theatre's hit production of Brecht's comedy Mr Puntila and his Man Matti. The production, premiered during the Almeida's season at Malvern in August prior to a run at the Traverse Theatre as part of this year's Edinburgh Festival, was subsequently seen at the Almeida in October; now it returns to the larger stage of the Albery for a three week season from December 22 to January 9. Directed by Kathryn Hunter (the award-winning actress best known for her work with Theatre de Complicite), the play is co-produced with the comic duo The Right Size, whose 1997 Edinburgh hit, Do You Come Here Often? , also transferred to the West End's Vaudeville Theatre for a run.

After Mr Puntila, this year's Evening Standard Award winning Best Director Howard Davies will stage a new production of Gorky's Vassa, with the title role of the powerful matriarch to be played by Sheila Hancock. Davies, who recently directed the Broadway-bound Almeida production of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, starring Kevin Spacey, is an associate director of the Almeida, where his other work includes the world premiere production of Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby earlier this year and a revival of Who's Afaid of Virginia Woolf? , the latter of which transferred successfully to the West End's Aldwych Theatre with Diana Rigg as Martha.

Vassa, being presented in a new version by Peter Gill, will open at the Aldwych Theatre on January 20 (following previews from January 14), and run to March 27, 1999. Vassa , written in 1909, is a comic portrait of a woman of iron will, who sees her family destroyed by the very values that she seeks to preserve. Vassa was last seen in London when Katie Mitchell directed a production at the Gate Theatre, and in 1985, Janet Suzman played the title role at Greenwich Theatre, directed by Helena Kaut-Howson. Now Sheila Hancock leads a cast that includes Anne-Marie Duff as Lyudmilla, Ron Cook as Prokhor, Christine Entwistle as Lipa, Debra Gillett as Natalya, Richard O'Callaghan as Mikhail, Aisling O'Sullivan as Anna, Adrian Scarborough as Semyon and David Tennant as Pavel.

Following Vassa, the Almeida will present a new production of David Hare's Plenty, with Cate Blanchett - fresh from playing the title role in the film Elizabeth - starring as Susan Traherne under Jonathan Kent's direction. Plenty, which opens on April 27 following previews from April 15, will run to July 10; booking opens for Plenty on January 25.

For further information, contact the box office on 011-44-171 369-1740.
By Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock What's On Stage, London