David Walliams and Sheridan Smith to sex up Midsummer Night's Dream

Michael Grandage has a sensational plan for Shakespeare's comedy

Is it inspired casting or a Shakespearean joke too far? David Walliams, the actor, children's author, charity swimmer, talent-show judge and comedian with an apparently unslakable passion for dressing in women's clothes, has been signed to star in an "absolutely sexual" new West End production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

He will play Bottom the Weaver this September in Michael Grandage's staging of Shakespeare's comedy at the Noel Coward Theatre. Playing opposite him, as Titania queen of the fairies, will be Sheridan Smith, acclaimed for her performance as Elle Woods in the stage musical Legally Blonde.

Walliams and Smith are just two of the big-name stars signed by the acclaimed director Grandage, pictured, for a season of five plays with his new company. He was previously attached to the Donmar Warehouse.

In the others, Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw will star in Peter and Alice, a new work by John Logan; Simon Russell Beale will take on the role of cross-dressing Captain Dennis in the Second World War farce Privates on Parade; Daniel Radcliffe will perform the title role in the comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan; and Jude Law will appear in Shakespeare's Henry V. The Michael Grandage Company aims to attract audiences through lower ticket prices. More than 100,000 tickets at £10 have been set aside for the season, which runs from December to February 2014.

Grandage's Dream goes further than some commentators in bringing the erotic elements to the fore.

"Once in the forest there's a kind of anarchic sexual freedom, and the casting of Sheridan and David helps me define that," he says.

"As Titania and Bottom, they're already in the forest, doing what they do. When I met Sheridan and David, I said, 'Let's make it a really, absolutely sexual production.'"

The play is actually more about love than sex, but it contains enough double entendres and potentially rude bits to delight an audience inured to Walliams's broad comedy in Little Britain.

Generations of British schoolboys have sniggered over "Puck" and "Bottom" and "ass", the presence of "fairies" and the distributing of "love-juice".

Playgoers will relish the moment in Act 1, Scene 2, when the company of Athenian tradesmen is being allotted their roles in a forthcoming play, and one, Flute, is offered the part of the heroine, Thisby. "Nay, faith, let me not play a woman," says Flute. "I have a beard coming." That, as TV viewers know, never stopped a befrocked and bearded Walliams declaring "...for I am a lay-dee".

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