Shaffer's epic follows Spanish soldier Pizarro (Alun Armstrong) during his country's conquest of Peru. With the promise of untold riches he entices recruits, while the Church claims the cause for Christianity. The ensuing conflict leaves thousands of unarmed Incas slaughtered and sparks an intense battle of wills between the Inca King Atahuallpa (Paterson Joseph) and his captor Pizarro, while the Spaniards plunder for gold. In this new production, directed by the National's previous artistic director Trevor Nunn, Armstrong and Joseph lead a cast of 33 actors, including Oliver Cotton, Paul Ritter, Malcolm Storry and Philip Voss. Set design is by Anthony Ward.
In John Dexter's ground-breaking 1964 production, the lead roles of Pizarro and Atahuallpa were played by Colin Blakely and Robert Stephens, respectively. Despite critical acclaim for the performances, the play's Broadway transfer in 1965 was recast, with Christopher Plummer (Pizarro) and David Carradine (Atahuallpa) taking over the lead roles.
Dexter's production led to further collaborations with Shaffer, including Black Comedy, which reverses dark and light, and Equus. Both were staged at the National, as were Shaffer's Amadeus and Yonadab.