Don Warrington is to star in a new production of King Lear at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
The casting makes Warrington the first black British actor to play the role in a large-scale professional production in more than 20 years.
Michael Buffong will direct the play, which is a co-production between his company Talawa and the Royal Exchange.
Reacting to his casting, Warrington said that playing the role had never occurred to him until the theatre’s artistic director, Sarah Frankcom, suggested it.
He added: “I had just been working with Michael on All My Sons at the Royal Exchange, an invigorating experience in that space. Michael and I spent some time discussing Lear, and it felt exciting to have the opportunity to tackle something equally challenging. At the time it seemed crazy to say no, now…I wonder if I’m just crazy.”
King Lear runs at the Royal Exchange from April 1 to May 7 next year, and will then transfer to Birmingham Repertory Theatre for a run from May 19 to 28.
Buffong claimed that King Lear “represents a huge and exciting challenge as a director”.
He continued: “Lear is an epic story of extremes in which families fight, tear each other apart and are pitted against the elements. It takes us back to an old world that’s searching for answers to questions about our very existence.
“Don Warrington has been a big part of Talawa’s story and to take this journey with an actor of such subtlety and power is an exciting prospect and one that I look forward to beginning.”
The last black British actor to play Lear in a major professional production was Ben Thomas in 1994, also in a production for Talawa. He stepped into the role when Norman Beaton, who had originally been cast, became ill.
Joseph Marcell also played the role in a small-scale international tour for Shakespeare’s Globe, which visited the UK for several dates in 2013 and 2014.
This story was updated on October 12 to include reference to Marcell’s role.