Maxine Peake is returning to the National Theatre to star in new play The Welkin.

The actress will tread the boards in the drama, written by Lucy Kirkwood, in January.

The 44-year-old screen and stage star, who last appeared at the National Theatre in 2002, plays midwife Lizzy Luke in the production set in 18th century rural Suffolk.

Luke is the only person prepared to defend a girl who says she is pregnant and has been sentenced to “hang for a heinous murder” in the play, which examines “justice and gender”.

The National Theatre’s new plays and adaptations come after it was criticised for not featuring enough female playwrights or directors.

Earlier this year, Sandi Toksvig called for the theatre to be renamed after “failing” to fully represent Britain by, she said, overlooking female writers.

The National Theatre had pledged that 50% of living writers as well as directors on its stages will be female by 2021.

New productions announced on Thursday feature Manor by Moira Buffini, Kate Tempest’s National Theatre debut as the writer of Paradise, and All Of Us, the first play by Francesca Martinez.