A decade on, Gambon returns to the National

More than 40 years after being handpicked by Laurence Olivier to join the original National Theatre Company, Sir Michael Gambon is to make a return to the venue where his reputation was built.

Gambon, 64, will play the role of Falstaff in Henry IV parts one and two from May until August.

The Irish-born actor, who went on to forge a screen career with critically acclaimed performances on television in Wives and Daughters and Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective , and films including Gosford Park , rose through the repertory companies to headline Shakespearean tragedies.

In repertory he played the title roles in Macbeth , Coriolanus and Othello , and in 1963 he was chosen by Olivier for the original National Theatre Company at the Old Vic. He last appeared for the National Theatre in David Hare's play Skylight in 1995.

Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National, who is directing Henry IV , said the role of Falstaff was perfectly suited to Gambon. "Michael is not only witty but the 'cause that wit is in other men', like Falstaff," he said. "One of his stories was that he'd been banned from the National for bad behaviour, so I thought I'd call his bluff."

Hytner, announcing the National's 2005 season, said it had an obligation to create controversy and debate. The season includes Playing With Fire , David Edgar's new play. Hytner described it as a "large, ambitious and exciting new play set in a fictional northern town about contemporary domestic politics and the tensions that emerge from multiculturalism".

Jim Broadbent will perform in May, in the role of Edward Lionheart in The Theatre of Blood , an adaptation of the 1973 horror film. Rachael Stirling, who starred in the Sapphic television series Tipping the Velvet , is cast as his daughter. Her mother, Dame Diana Rigg, starred in the original film.

The season also features a play by Mike Leigh, who has refused to reveal details about the project. Mr Hytner had promised before that a new work by the film director would appear, without managing to deliver. But this time, he said, he was sure Leigh would return to the National after an absence of 12 years.

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