A bumper autmn season

It may be summer outside but the region's theatres are already gearing up for an autumn season which will dazzle and delight. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke has a sneak peak at the treats in store.

Andrew Clarke

It may be summer outside but the region's theatres are already gearing up for an autumn season which will dazzle and delight. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke has a sneak peak at the treats in store.

Three of the region's leading theatres have got plenty to celebrate this autumn. The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich is opening its season with the world premiere of a new musical while Colchester's Mercury Theatre is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its resident repertory company with a new play about the town, its history and its people.

Meanwhile the recently restored Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal, will be unearthing the works of another forgotten Georgian playwright Thomas Holcroft, and will be staging a production of his wicked satire He's Much to Blame, along with, later in the season, a rehearsed reading of his comedy The Road To Ruin and a lecture on Holcroft and his theatre.

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These productions form the cornerstones of a rich and varied autumn season which culminates in the seasonal mayhem provided by the panto season.

All three theatres have a strong and enthusiastic following for their yuletide frolics. The New Wolsey have carved out a unique niche for their rock'n'roll pantos, this year it's Aladdin, while the Mercury have enjoyed the services of the same panto team, led by director Janice Dunn, for the past ten years. This Christmas they are re-telling the story of Cinderella, while at the Theatre Royal, Bury, they have been busy reinventing the Bury panto to maximise the opportunities afforded by the intimate setting of the traditional Georgian stage. This year associate director Abigail Anderson gets to reinvent Jack and the Beanstalk for Bury's unique performing space. Expect plenty of audience participation.

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New Wolsey artistic director Peter Rowe will be unveiling the world premiere of the stage musical version of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, which provided Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart with a career defining role.

Produced in association with Avalon Promotions, the fully-staged musical will feature a cast of 17 actors. The film's screenplay has been adapted by Steve Brown, who wrote the music for Spend, Spend, Spend, the story of pools winner Viv Nicholson and went on to win two Olivier awards and an Evening Standard Award for Best New Musical when it was first staged in 1999.

Spend, Spend, Spend was seen on the New Wolsey stage last year when it was performed by The Gallery Players as part of the theatre's community season and featured Sam Horsfield, who duetted recently with John Barrowman, in the lead role.

This world premiere is the result of ten years in development and will be performed by a professional cast, augmented by seven talented local youngsters who play the children. It tells the story of George Bailey, a man at the end of his tether, and who is pulled back from the brink his guardian angel who shows him what his life has meant to the people of Bedford Falls.

It is hoped that after a three week run in Suffolk, from September 10 to October 3, it is hoped it will transfer to a London theatre.

Meanwhile down the A12, the Colchester Mercury, will be marking the 10th anniversary of the Mercury Theatre Company with an exciting new production - Depot, which will be the company's 80th production and is to be performed not on the Mercury stage, but in the old 1930s Tram Depot on Magdalen Street.

From September 23 to October 11 audiences can experience this specially-written promenade performance, inspired by some of Colchester's hidden voices, lost souls and forgotten stories.

Writer/director Gari Jones has created a show which will allow audiences to travel in time with an elusive young boy as he witnesses a widow being accused of witchcraft and being judged by her neighbours, discovers a girl seeking sanctuary in a church, finds a couple asleep in a floating bed and reveals a scientist making electrifying discoveries along with a host of other Colchester stories from the town's rich and colourful past.

Depot will be told using film, music, projection, installation and live action. Alongside a cast of favourite Mercury actors, including Christine Absalom, Ignatius Anthony, Roger-Delves-Broughton, Clare Humphrey, Charlie Morgan, David Tarkenter and Tim Treslove, Depot will also be performed by a community acting company and a community choir made up of local people.

Depot is part of GiFT… a month of different arts events in Colchester celebrating the town's history and people.

Touring productions are also part of the autumn season at all three theatres. At Bury St Edmunds, the critically acclaimed Out of Joint Theatre Company return to the theatre with Dreams Of Violence by Stella Feehily. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark, it's a comedy about love, death and responsibility. It follows the bewildering day-to-day life of Hildy, who turns to political activism to escape the disorder of her family life: her druggie son; her philandering husband; and her father, misbehaving in a hugely expensive retirement home. And then there's her mother - a charismatic 60s pop star, who clings to her former beauty and a bottle of vodka and sets up camp in Hildy's spare room to belittle her from close range.

A superb cast of eight features Catherine Russell (Talking to Terrorists), Paula Wilcox (Man about the House, La Cage aux Folles) and Ciaran McIntyre (Best Actor at 2008 Stage Awards for Deep Cut).

Dreams Of Violence runs from September 30 to October 3.

Spymonkey make their first visit to Ipswich with Moby Dick from October 8-10. The company has built a huge international following as a 21st Century mix of Fawlty Towers, Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks-style comedy, overflowing with brilliant characters, visual humour and outrageous naughtiness. Spymonkeyis also at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal from October 5-7.

Laughter continues at the New Wolsey on October 11 with Wolsey favourite Hugh Hughes in… 360, the latest installment from the man behind Floating and Story of a Rabbit while Lip Service returns with Desperate to be Doris from October 14-17, a new comedy featuring some of Doris Day's greatest hits and a specially recruited community choir.

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale occupies Bury's Theatre Royal from October 13-17 and brings together a lost child, a jealous king, a beautiful statue and the most famous stage direction of all time - exit, pursued by a bear. Shakespeare's late, great romance weaves high drama and low comedy to tell a story of heartbreak, reunion and new found hope.

Then from October 20-24, the Theatre Royal goes on tour with The Liberty Tree - a celebration of Robin Hood and the ancient tradition of English dissent.

Two of Britain's leading storytellers, Hugh Lupton and Nick Hennessey, sing and tell their way deep into the secret, dappled heart of Sherwood… and at the same time tell the true and harsher histories of English dissenters, tricksters and radicals.

Meanwhile at the Colchester Mercury, director Sue Lefton will being staging Nora, a new stage version of Ingmar Bergman's screen adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's classic controversial 19th Century play A Dolls House.

Originally presented in Germany in 1981, Nora is a psychological drama that 'cuts to the chase' and exposes the heart of A Doll's House keeping only what is vital to tell Nora's personal struggle for identity.

Kate Copeland will play Nora with local actor Ben Livingstone playing Nils Krogstad and regular Mercury Theatre company members Roger Delves-Broughton playing Doctor Rank and Ignatius Anthony playing Torvald.

Nora is on from November 5-21.

This autumn the Mercury Theatre company will be working again with Shakespeare and Company from the USA, who staged productions of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar in Colchester in 2007. From November 18-28 Shakespeare and Company actors Tina Packer and Nigel Gore will perform Franz Xaver Kroetz' dazzling two-hander Through the Leaves in the Mercury Studio Theatre. Martha runs a butcher's shop; Otto is an inarticulate factory worker. Each of them is alone in a world which seems to have overlooked them. Suitable for 16+ years. Contains strong language and scenes of an adult nature.

The season ends for each theatre with their annual romp through the day-glo pantomime landscape.

Tickets and further information for all productions are available online at www.wolseytheatre.co.uk, www.mercurytheatre.co.uk and www.theatreroyal.org

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