From the spring of 1999, Britain'sRoyal National Theatre is to create a new acting ensemble to perform a diverse collection of plays and musicals in repertoire. Modelled on the system initiatived by Laurence Olivier when the organisation first came into being, the new company's work will begin in the auditorium named after him, the Olivier, where Tony-award winning designer John Napier has designed a permanent environment for the season.

The opening productions are 'linked thematically, but are very different in style', according to Trevor Nunn, director of the National Theatre, who will co-direct both shows with John Caird. Voltaire's Candide (presented in the 1956 Leonard Bernstein musical version, adapted by Hugh Wheeler with lyrics by Richard Wilbur and additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche) will be staged in rep with Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. Says Nunn, 'Both present a war-torn world in which destructiveness and corruption appear to overhwelm what is good and pure. Shakespeare's Troilus, a defining work of 17th-century humanism, reaches a very different conclusion from Voltaire's Candide, a scabrously funny expression of 18th-century rationalism. Th ecnetral characters of Troilus and Candide are both searching for the meaning of truth, loyalty and beauty in a world which seems empty of all value. The abiding questions posed by two of the grewat writers of this millenium are both relevant and challenging to the world in which will live, and provide an exciting context for the National's ambitious new project.'

Troilus and Cressida will open on March 15, following previews from March 6. Candide, last revived on Broadway in 1997 in an short-lived run at the Gershwin by ill-fated Canadian production company Livent Inc, will open on April 13, following previews from April 5.

Nunn and Caird have previously co-directed productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company , including The Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, Nicholas Nickleby (subsequently seen on Broadway), Peter Pan (currently being revived at the National Theatre, now under the direction of Fiona Laird), and most famously, Les Miserables.

In other National Theatre news, following the success of transferring the Abbey Theatre, Dublin's production of Tarry Flynn to the National in August 1998, the Lyttelton will host a 13-performance run of the Abbey's production of Dion Boucicault's The Colleen Bawn, from March 17. As for Tarry Flynn, the director is Conall Morrison and the choreographer is David Bolger - the same team who have just reconceived the latest incarnation of the Boublil/Schonberg musical Martin Guerre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse Theatre in Leeds, for producer Cameron Mackintosh.

By Mark Shenton