The Royal National Theatre have announced their season through to April 15, 2000. It sees the return of Patrick Marber's Closer to the building where it was first seen (for 13 performances only, in the repertoire from December 20), and return performances of Trevor Nunn's highly acclaimed staging of Gorky's Summerfolk (for 16 performances only, in the repertoire from February 10). The National also hosts visits from Birmingham Repertory Theatre, transferring their production of Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll to the Lytteltonin the play's first British staging (opening on March 7, following previews from March 3); and the Market Theatre, Johannesburg, bringing their revival of The Island, performed by John Kani and Winston Ntshona and co-written by the actors with Athol Fugard, to the Lyttelton for 20 performances only (opening on January 26, following previews from January 24). NT Ensemble 99, the company of actors formed at the beginning of the year by Trevor Nunn, continues into the new century to present the world premiere of The Villian's Opera (opening on April 11, following previews from April 4), a new contemporary setting of John Gay's 1728 The Beggar's Opera. Written by Nick Dear (whose The Art of Success was produced both by the RSC and Manhattan Theatre Club) and with new music by Stephen Warbeck, the composer whose work includes the Oscar-winning score to Shakespeare in Love, the show will be directed by Tim Supple, artistic director of London's Young Vic and currently responsible for the new RSC staging of The Servant of Two Masters.

Closer will be seen in a National Theatre touring production, directed by Paddy Cunneen (who wrote the music for the original staging of the play, when author Patrick Marber directed it). Baby Doll, described as a passionate tale of the Deep South and both a searing examination of racial bigotry and corruption and a tender portrait of love and loneliness, is directed by Lucy Bailey in a production that was first seen at Birmingham Rep in October 1999. The Island, set in South Africa's notorious Robben Island security prison which was Nelson Mandela's home for so many years, is described as a tribute to the men and women who were incarcerated there in the fight for a free and democratic South Africa. First seen in 1973 and subsequently at London's Royal Court the following year, the play also transferred to the West End and on to Broadway, winning Tony Awards for both Kani and Ntshona.