Theatergoers on the prowl for big names in all categories will find them elsewhere, too. The great Simon Russell Beale, currently a robust Benedick in the National Theatre Much Ado About Nothing, takes on another assignment in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara (February 26-April 5). The title role will be played by Hayley Atwell, and the cast includes reliable prize winner Clare Higgins.
Also at the National is The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other (February 16-March 5) by Peter Handke, who only likes to experiment when he writes. The 450 characters (you read that correctly) who never speak will be played by a cast of 27. In the small Cottesloe are three one-acts under the evocative umbrella title Baby Girl, DNA & The Miracle (February 16-March 12). The much-more-than-promising Roy Williams is one of the playwrights involved.
Looking for more star power? British favorite Felicity Kendall is the troubled and troublesome mother in Noel Coward's first smasheroo, The Vortex, at the Apollo (February 20-July 7), directed by the tireless 77-year-old Sir Peter Hall. Looking for more playwright power? Arthur Miller's recently reconsidered early work, The Man Who Had All the Luck, moves into the Donmar Warehouse (February 28-April 5).
Farther afield, there's more excitement. At the Lyric Hammersmith is Ralph Manheim's translation of Bertolt Brecht's nasty allegory, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (February 14-March 15). Now set in contemporary Africa, it stars Zimbabwean actor Lucian Msamati, who may have some of his local leaders in mind as he performs. Company artistic director David Farr helms. At the Bush -- where the fare is usually hot stuff but where times are tough because of Arts Council cuts -- Michael Bartlett's new Artefacts will be on view (February 20-March 22).
If you happen to be on hand Leap-Year night (February 29), see if you can score a ticket to Chain Play II, for which dramatists like Stephen Adly Guirgis and Neil LaBute will each toss in a 15-minute scene and hope the whole makes sense. Or try The Hampstead, where Diane Samuels and Tracy Ann Oberman fiddle with Anton Chekhov for Three Sisters on Hope Street (February 21-March 29). An oddity called Being Harold Pinter, which mixes his words (including the Nobel acceptance speech with transcripts from Belarusian political prisoners), is at the Soho (February 14-23)
Going even further afield, theater-mad adventurers may want to travel the District Line to Richmond's Orange Tree theater, particularly if musicals are their delicacy. A tuner called Next Door's Baby by Matthew Strachan and Bernie Gaghan bows with the amusing Louise Gold in the troupe. If you feel like making the short overland rail trip from Waterloo to Kingston, you can see the fabulous new 900-seat Rose Theatre, where Peter Hall has mounted Uncle Vanya (through February 9). Following on those fancy heels is Jeff Baron's Visiting Mr. Green (February 11-16) with Warren Mitchell in the lead and Patrick Garland directing. In the impressive new space, you can be a groundling for seven pounds, or a cushion-ling -- since those directly in front of the raked stage don't stand but sit on cushions.